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History and Mission

History and Mission of National Garden Clubs

Overall, NGC aims to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility and we help coordinate the interests and activities of state and local garden clubs in the U.S. and abroad.

The first garden club meeting in the United States took place in Athens, Georgia in 1891.  It occurred during a time when women were seeking knowledge about a variety of subjects in study clubs of those with like interests.  They felt they needed more knowledge, as they had not had the benefit of a formal higher education.  

The topic of gardening was a logical choice for women in Athens, as it was the site of the University of Georgia with its botanical garden.  This garden had a collection of thousands of rare plants.  With the failure of the botanical garden, many residents had an interest in exchanging plants among themselves. 

The idea to have a garden club came from Dr. Edwin Dorset Newton, an Athens physician who had a keen interest in horticulture.  Twelve women met in the home of Mrs. Edwin King Lumpkin on a January day in 1891 to form the Ladies’ Garden Club of Athens.  The primary purpose was to study plants with each member studying a particular variety.  These members dedicated themselves to the study of horticulture and the exchange of plants and ideas for the betterment of their community.  Members were encouraged “to carry out experiments with different vegetables, flowers, seeds and so forth to find out which varieties were best.”  The first flower show grew from the exhibitions of their flowers and vegetables. 

As the number of garden clubs grew, these clubs saw the advantages of joining together into state federations to address common concerns such as groundwater and parks.

On March 11, 1929, representatives of the nineteen state federations were invited to come to New York City to discuss the possibility of forming a national organization.  This group decided to move ahead with the idea of the new organization and formed two committees: Nominating and Bylaws.

A second meeting was held in Washington, DC, on May 1, 1929, for the purpose of organizing what is now National Garden Clubs, Inc.  The group’s main objective was to form an organization emphasizing horticulture.  The Bylaws stated the objective was “to bring into relations of mutual helpfulness the State Federations of Garden Clubs, and to make combined action possible when deemed expedient.” In addition to groundwater and parks issues, another main concern was the Quarantine 37 Act regulating nursery stock that prohibited the importation of Dutch bulbs.

This new organization was named The National Council of State Garden Club Federations.  In 1935 the name changed to National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. (NCSGC) and again in 2001 to National Garden Clubs, Inc. (NGC).  The beginning membership in 1929 of 25,000 in 13 states reached its maximum in 1961-1963 of 417,652 members in 15,233 clubs. 

The basic objectives on which National Garden Clubs was formed are still relevant today – knowledge and networking among members across the nation to have one powerful voice. 

National Garden Clubs, Inc. provides education, resources, and national networking opportunities for its members to promote the love of gardening, floral design, and civic and environmental responsibility.

"I pledge to protect and conserve the natural resources of the planet earth and promise to promote education so we may become caretakers of our air, water, forest, land, and wildlife."

NGC aims to help local communities, regions and states in identifying areas of need for community improvement; local garden clubs providing opportunities for service, education, and friendship; and partnerships with concerned organizations who provide resources and support to our local clubs and their projects.

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NGC is proud of its college scholarship program which offers financial aid to students majoring in fields of study related to horticulture and the environment. Applicant must be planning a career related to gardening, landscape design, environmental issues, floral design or horticulture. Check your State Garden Club for scholarship opportunities.

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Our Permanent Home

Today, National Garden Clubs, Inc., (NGC) is a not-for-profit educational organization headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri USA, adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

NGC Headquarters Front Entrance

 

HQ building and grounds

 

In 1934 National Garden Clubs, Inc. (NGC) leased its first office space for $1.00 for that year in the newly constructed Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. At the time, there were 84,661 members. In 1941 with rapid growth to 160,000 members, the need for bigger facilities prompted the move to the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.  Headquarters was moved again to the Essex House, 160 Central Park South, New York City in during the 1949-1951 administration.

At the 1953 Convention with membership continuing to increase to over 300,000 members, Judge Grover Cleveland Spillers, husband of President Lorena Spillers, suggested building a permanent headquarters. At the 1953 Fall Board Meeting, the Directors voted to build a headquarters as the Silver Anniversary Project. Members present at the 1954 annual convention voted on location options with St. Louis winning due to it being in the center of the country for a national organization.

At the 1954 Silver Anniversary Convention, the announcement was made that John and Anne Lehman had donated $55,000 to purchase 6.2 acres adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden and directly across from Tower Grove Park.  Fundraising for the building began in earnest and was so successful that the $290,000 building was built debt-free.  NGC obtained its IRS 501(c)(3) designation during this time so donations would be tax-deductible.

Architect Frederick R Dunn designed the classic mid-century modern building.  The building was constructed of granite from Georgia symbolizing the first garden club formed in Athens and of brick from New York symbolizing the first twenty years of existence there.  Groundbreaking began on May 12, 1957 with construction by the Gamble Construction Company. Dedication was right on schedule – May 10, 1959.  In 1995, the St Louis Chapter of the American Association of Architects gave the building a 25-year award for Excellence in Architecture.

When the needs of NGC and staff had grown beyond its space and expansion was needed, ground was broken on October 3, 1997 for an expansion of Kellogg Hall by a generous donation of the Cecil B Day family, husband of President Deen Day Sanders. Architect Markham Smith and designer Jenny White seamlessly continued the 1950’s style of the building with BSI Contractors doing the construction. This addition increased the meeting room capacity, complied with the American Disabilities Act and enlarged the Member Services Department with its storage facilities.  The building was rededicated in 1999, 40 years after the first dedication.

In 2019, at the Fall Board Meeting, NGC again dedicated new portions of headquarters with a new redesign of the front entrance, a new redesign of the interior glass-walled patio, the installation of a new butterfly sculpture and a new redesign Butterfly Garden. Through the support and generosity of June Kummer, SWT Design was selected to rethink how the entrance could better inform visitors to the mission and identity of NGC.  Jean Ohlman’s generous donation supported the redesign and new plantings of the interior glass-walled patio by Jon Carloftis.  Barbara Baker’s love and concern for butterflies was the impetus for her donating a new monarch butterfly sculpture by Abraham Mohler for the Butterfly Garden, which was replanted to reflect the types of native plants that attract wildlife and pollinators.

June Kummer Garden

 

The front entrance was primarily a concrete parking lot with minimal landscape. Additionally, the main building entrance was retrofitted to accommodate an ADA ramp addition that detracted from the aesthetic quality of the entrance terrace.  Headquarters was barely recognizable from Magnolia Avenue, and many people simply thought that the facilities were part of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

In winter of 2016, the NGC Board of Directors made the commitment to re-envision the entrance to NGC Headquarters along with their landscape and parking lot.  Through the support and generosity of June Kummer, SWT Design was selected to rethink how the site could better inform visitors to the mission and identity of the NGC. A key goal of the new design was to preserve and enhance the bold and simple aesthetics of the Mid-Century Modem Headquarters, speaking to the history and beauty of gardens while serving as a new model for performative landscapes.

During the design process it became evident that the main need for visitor parking was limited to just a few times a year.  This provided a great opportunity to rethink how the parking could be transformed into a garden court and a more sustainable landscape.  The design focused on extending the garden terrace into the entire space, organizing the site on a strong north-south axis that links the existing entrance terrace, and creating a new east-west axis that terminates on a new garden wall relief sculpture and seating area.  This provides the framework for the permeable grass paved parking spaces, rain garden, seating nodes, improved raised terrace, entry garden wall, and well-identified entrance.

SWT Design carefully detailed all aspects of the garden to be in keeping with the historic facilities.  The main entrance garden wall helps to form the new courtyard while serving as a contemporary identity to the public street and new vehicular entrance.  The western terminus to the garden court features a small seating terrace and garden wall featuring a stone bas relief sculpture. Local artist, Abraham Mohler, was commissioned to create the relief depicting eight different Columbine flower forms that represent native species found in each geographic region of the NGC.  The Aquilegia genus (Columbine) can be found in all 50 states which the organization represents and serves as a reminder of beauty and unity.  The design team and artist collaborated to create this meaningful reminder of the heritage and diversity of the membership while inspiring the beauty of the gardens.

The new bold landscape provided an opportunity to use both Midwestern native plant material and non­native plants that adapt well to the local environment.  The design focused on simple broad massings of shrubs and perennials that together provide a four-season landscape. Weaving-in a traditional landscape palette that is familiar to NGC members while introducing new and possibly unfamiliar plant material provides an opportunity to educate and inspire those who visit the space. A central piece of the garden is the transformation of the parking lot into a structural lawn.  NGC is the first in St. Louis to install the Checker Block Lawn Paver system that will serve as a multifunctional space for people and cars.  The structural soil system and sandy soil mix will act as a sponge absorbing water runoff.  This, along with the permeable paver driveway and entry rain garden, demonstrates the NGC's commitment to sustainability by surpassing the local requirements for maintaining storm water on site.

national garden clubs atrium

 

A glass-walled patio with a circular opening to the sky is inside the main entrance to the building.  It was named in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Grover Cleveland Spillers.  Mrs. Spillers was NCSGC President 1951-1953, and Mr. Spillers suggested NGC built a Headquarters that they would own instead of renting office space.  The original planting of this atrium garden was Japanese-inspired in design and symbolism. 

In 2019 NGC member, Jean Ohlmann, recognized the need for a renovation of the original  planting in the Atrium Garden, as it is the first thing one sees upon entering the building.  Jean’s donation funded hiring of the garden designer, Jon Carloftis, and Landscape Design Architect, Thomas McKinley to design and plant the Atrium Garden.  The combined vision of Jean, John and Thomas was to make the garden a focal point as one walks the hall to the meeting room and to make it a garden that one would want to sit in and relax. 

The renovated garden includes a bench, a stone path that used the existing stones from the original garden, and urns copied from those at Longwood gardens in three of the corners.  A Japanese maple, Serviceberry, camellia, lilyturf, hostas, ferns and hellebores compose this low-maintenance garden.

9/11 garden

 

The September 11th Memorial Garden is located at the end of the wall extending from Kellogg Hall.  The 16-foot-wide garden incorporates a number of symbolic meanings, representing the sites where so many fellow citizens, as well as individuals of other countries were killed.  A low, pentagon-shaped hedge of Green Velvet boxwood surrounds two flagpoles representing the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a slightly higher hedge in the form of the Pennsylvania keystone.  The area between the two hedges is planted with massed annuals.

This garden is a beautiful and fitting memorial of all who lost their lives on that terrible day and will assure that they are never forgotten.  The garden was made possible by the generous support of the members of National Garden Clubs, Inc.  The dedication on May 16, 2004 was part of the 75th Anniversary Celebration

Cloned Trees

 

Behind the NGC Headquarters building is the grove of the Presidential Tree Collection.  They were presented to NGC by the Michigan-based Champion Tree Project and Connecticut-based Bartlett Tree Experts, which have been working to preserve the legacy of old-growth trees from presidential properties.  The trees were selected to commemorate the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore, as these presidents represent the first 150 years of American history.

David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project based in Copemish, Michigan and his son, Jared, created the nonprofit in 1996 to preserve the genetics of "the last great trees of America." The organization has cloned about 100 trees, many of them virgin, old-growth trees, including some of the oldest and largest in the nation. The organization also has an interest in trees with ties to history, such as those planted by presidents or growing on their homesteads.

By cloning trees, rather than just planting a tree's offspring, the tree's genetic material can be replicated.

National Garden Clubs, Inc. chose to commemorate these presidents in a manner which all plant lovers can appreciate – a tree has been planted in their honor.  Each tree in the collection is significant to the presidents and their daily lives:

  • George Washington – Fraxinus americana, White Ash from his home, Mount Vernon
  • Thomas Jefferson – Acer saccharum, Sugar Maple from his sugar plantation at Monticello
  • Abraham Lincoln – Quercus alba, White Oak from the Kentucky property where he was born
  • Theodore Roosevelt – Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, Copper Beech from his home Sagamore Hill in Long Island, New York
monarch sculpture

 

In conjunction with the expansion of Headquarters in 1998, a garden adjacent to Kellogg Hall was planted in 1998 with perennial plants for attracting birds, bees and butterflies.  It also features a bronze sculpture of a Bob Thomas design that honors his memory.  The butterfly sundial and butterfly benches were created by Clydetta Fulmer of Montgomery, Alabama.

Research, time and experience has changed the views of wildlife planting for butterflies and other pollinators.  In the summer of 2019, the Butterfly Garden was replanted with a diverse selection of butterfly-friendly plants from spring until fall, creating a native planting of grasses and broadleaves.  As an added benefit, many of the plants are suitable for other pollinators such as bees and wasps.

An addition to the garden in 2019 was a stainless steel and glass monarch butterfly sculpture created by artist Abraham Mohler with a donation from Barbara Baker.  Barbara’s love, interest and concern for butterflies was the inspiration for her vision for this beautiful artwork that now graces this garden.


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