This is the 10th installment of a series giving glimpses of the club at various times during its history, drawn from newsletters, reports, ledgers and other materials available through the help of Diana Kohn and Historic Takoma Inc. Naturally not all of the talented gardeners in the Takoma Horticultural Club were well-known public figures. This installment gives a glimpse of the activities of a member who had the greenest of green thumbs and made a long-lasting impression on those who met her.
Member participation in the Flower Shows had lagged by 1960, when J. Wallace Talley took the Presidency for the second time. To encourage members to feel confident enough to exhibit their own flowers, he instituted a “Bragging Session” at the end of each monthly meeting. The first session began with the “display of Mrs. Irene Haggerty’s beautiful cymbidium orchid, with a spray of eight yellow blossoms. Mrs. Haggerty has had this plant for four years and keeps it on a cool sunny porch. She waters it twice a week. Each bloom lasts six weeks.”
A member of the Club at least since 1950, Irene Haggerty had been in the newsletter before. In the early fifties she won a number of firsts in the Flower Shows, including iris and tulip shows, entering specimens as well as arrangements. Annual plant sales were held at the Takoma Park Library grounds, and long-time member Carole Galati remembers buying some of the plants that she brought to the sale in tuna fish cans. Mike Welsh, now the Takoma Park City Gardener, says “Yes, I remember Irene Haggerty. She and her husband lived in Garrett Park. She had an amazing talent for plant and seed propagation and, while active, always sold some wonderful plants at THC’s plant sale.”
In January, 1950 Mrs. Haggerty was invited to write about her house plants: “I have been raising house plants for 40 years. Some have been dismal failures. Some have been highly successful. All have given me much pleasure. The two that I have enjoyed most are orchids and gardenias.
“I started gardenia culture in 1930. The florist told me to treat it like a geranium. So for five years, I treated about a dozen plants like geraniums and sadly buried every one of them. Then in 1935 I happened to repot one in oak woods dirt. It rained a lot that summer and my gardenia burst into bloom. From that day forward, until I moved into my present gas heated house in 1940, my gardenias grew like weeds. Here is a partial record of one plant which was bought at [the] 10 cent store on February 6 for 23¢. ‘Blossoms 1939: 355. Sold in December for $1.00 because it was too big to keep in the house.’ On July 10, 1942 one plant had 70 blooms at one time. My dozen or so plants of the common variety are all descendant of the 10 cent store plant.
“My orchid culture started in November 1939 when my husband gave me a Cattleya Mossiae for my birthday. It produced 2 blossoms in March 1940, and I sat up all night and embroidered and watched it open. The next morning I was beady eyed, but I had seen a fat bud slowly become that most perfect flower, a full blown orchid. Fred also got up a few times to see how it was coming along, and he is definitely not a gardener. From March 1940 until December 1947, when my furnace broke down and they froze, I had 22 blooms.
“I bought 3 other species in 1943. Two bloomed, but one never did. I consider them successful, as one cannot expect 100% performance from everything. Camellia culture is my next project, and whether they do well or fail, it is a lot of fun, and isn’t that why we garden?”
This is installment nine of a series giving glimpses of the Takoma Horticultural Club at various times during its history, drawn from a collection of newsletters, reports, ledgers and other materials made available through the help of Diana Kohn and Historic Takoma Inc. In this episode we commemorate Benjamin Y. Morrison, perhaps THC’s most renowned member.
This year marks not only the 100th anniversary of THC, but also 50 years since the death of Benjamin Yeo (B.Y.) Morrison (1891 – 1966), a remarkable member of THC. The son of founding member Lisle Morrison, B.Y. joined THC when he began work at the USDA’s Office of Plant Introduction and Exploration in Glenn Dale, MD, after serving in the Army in World War I in the Camp Planning Division of the War Department. In 1926, he became THC’s 10th president and in the United Kingdom awarded the Peter Barr (the 19th century horticulturalist credited with promoting daffodils in the UK) Memorial Cup to him.
His most prominent plant breeding efforts were the Glenn Dale hybrid azaleas. Starting in the late 1920’s, Morrison worked for over 25 years to create these winter-hardy azaleas with large, colorful flowers suitable for the Washington, DC region. The program produced 454 new azalea cultivars, which were distributed from 1942 through 1954 to nursery growers, gardens and individuals across the US—and in Takoma Park and environs by Morrison himself, friends, and THC members. Legend has it that after the Glenn Dale station was directed to grow plants exclusively for the war effort, Morrison moved the azaleas to his yard in Takoma Park and walked the streets with a wheelbarrow full of seedlings to give to willing gardeners. THC has also donated Glenn Dale azaleas to parks in Takoma Park to replace those lost over the decades. At the US National Arboretum, the Glenn Dale Hillside was planted with 10,000 unnamed Glenn Dale hybrids from 1946 to 1948, and the formal Morrison Garden serves as the hub of the azalea collection.iii Ironically, B.Y. Morrison Park in Takoma Park has almost no azaleas.
In 1965, he was made Honorary President. THC named the year 1966—the club’s 50th anniversary—“the year of Morrison.”
Well known for his development and introduction of the Glenn Dale hybrid azaleas as well as for serving as the first director of the US National Arboretum, Morrison also made many other lesser- known contributions to horticulture and the arts. Irises were his earliest venture in plant breeding. While studying at Harvard, Grace Sturtevant, known as “America’s first lady of iris,” encouraged Morrison to breed irises and introduced his seedlings in her catalogue. (Sturtevant also named one of her early award-winning seedlings “B.Y. Morrison.”) Morrison went on to be an early officer of the American Iris Society and later served as the editor of its bulletin for many years. Daffodils closely followed the irises. Morrison was said to have “done more than any other person to make the modern daffodils known and loved in many sections of this country.”i Unlike his work with azaleas, his daffodil introduction and hybridization efforts largely took place in his garden on Piney Branch Road in Takoma Park, where many people came to admire his new cultivars. He brought his passion for the flower to THC, which formed a 15-member Narcissus Committee. The Committee’s conscientious attempts at cross-breeding more than 400 varieties are documented in the 100+ page “1926 Report of the Narcissus Committee” in the THC archives.ii Morrison lectured widely and corresponded with thousands about his “beloved flower.” He also edited four American Daffodil Yearbooks for the American Horticultural Society.
The conceptualization and planning of the National Arboretum are also among Morrison’s notable achievements. From 1937 to 1948, under the title of Acting Director, he designed the different areas of the property, laid out the roads, decided upon the places for the future headquarters building, the library, herbarium and greenhouses, and began the construction and the planting of the more important botanical and horticultural collections. He was officially named as Director in 1948, shortly before his retirement from USDA.iv
Morrison’s abilities were not limited to horticulture and landscaping. He was also a skilled writer, editor, artist and musician. For 37 years—beginning in 1926 and ending in 1964, long after he retired and left Takoma Park for Mississippi—he applied these abilities to create the unique style and format of the National Horticultural Magazine (now the American Gardener) of the American Horticultural Society in his volunteer position as Chairman of the Editorial Committee. The prints he created for the covers were the magazine’s early hallmark and continued until 1954.v For several years during the World War II period, Morrison served as both president of AHS and editor of the magazine, in addition to his job as Acting Director of the Arboretum. The AHS called him the “guiding spirit of the organization during and after World War II.” Today, the AHS confers the annual B.Y. Morrison Communication Award, recognizing “effective and inspirational communication— through print, radio, television, and/or online media—that advances public interest and participation in horticulture.” vi
Further evidence of his artistic talents can be found at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, 39 pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations of grasses, irises, daffodils, and more are in the Art Department. However, the Archives of the Hunt Institute contain the “jewels” of his collection: sketchbooks and drawings in various media of Chinese and Japanese gardens and other scenes he encountered in his travels. Seven boxes of his correspondence, manuscripts, and other writings are also part of the archives.vii
In the musical arts, he composed an opera libretto and gave professional lieder concerts (a 19th century form of German-language sung poetry with a soloist and piano). His friend wrote that he was offered an opportunity to try out for the Metropolitan Opera.viii
It is no surprise that a colleague at the USDA said of him in 1931: “The fairies that stood sponsor at the birth of B. Y. Morrison must have been in doubt as to what special gift they should bestow upon him, so to give him a choice they placed within his reach Art, Music, Literature, and Science, whereupon he grasped them all and refused to part with any of them, but the feature of this many-sidedness which is of greatest interest to us is his love of flowers and his interest in plants.” ix
i, ii Wister, J. C. BENJAMIN YEO MORRISON, Royal Horticultural Society, Daffodil and Tulip Yearbook 1963. For example, one member successfully crossed King Alfred with Crimson Braid to produce Marmaduke, which the nursery trade picked up as a named variety. On the other hand, King Alfred crossed with Loveliness failed to produce seed.
iii Wister, J. C. BENJAMIN YEO MORRISON, Royal Horticultural Society, Daffodil and Tulip Yearbook 1963.
iv Rhododendron Glenn Dale Hybrid Azaleas. U.S. National Arboretum Plant Introduction, Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit. 2008.
ix J. Marion Shull, Rainbow Fragments, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., New York, 1931, page 116, cited in Wister, J. C. BENJAMIN YEO MORRISON, Royal Horticultural Society, Daffodil and Tulip Yearbook 1963.
This is installment eight of a monthly series giving glimpses of the Takoma Horticultural Club at various times during its history, drawn from a collection of newsletters, reports, ledgers and other materials made available through the help of Diana Kohn and Historic Takoma Inc. In this episode we highlight a few more notable THC members.1
Winn T. Simmons joined THC shortly after its founding, served as its 3rd president, and later held every other club office. Mr. Simmons was also an iris hybridizer, registering four varieties of tall bearded iris. His home on Aspen St., NW was the site of one of the area’s earliest small-scale nurseries, specializing in irises. Perhaps most notable of his horticultural achievements was his “Fruit Tree with 21 Varieties,” which was featured in the 1947 Sunday Star Pictorial Magazine. At the time, the tree bore 18 varieties of apple and 3 of pear. A 1951 THC newsletter noted “Mr. Simmons could go one better” than Senator Warren Austin’s (R-VT, 1931 – 1946 and first US Ambassador to the UN) “Yankee pride” in his apple tree with 7 varieties, because Simmons also had a pear in his one-tree collection. In 1953 Simmons established a THC perpetual trophy for excellence in flower shows at the same time that the club recognized him for outstanding services.
Dr. William Stuart (1865 – 1951), a founding member of THC, was also known as “the Potato King,” for his role in advancing the potato industry. Employed by the Bureau of Plant Industry in the USDA, he focused on potato research. Stuart was also a founder of the Potato Association of America (which also celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016). His book, The Potato, Its Culture, Uses, History, and Classification, was widely used as a textbook in both the US and other potato-growing nations. The Potato Association stated that “He was without question better informed on all phases of the potato industry than any other man in the United States” when it awarded him an honorary life membership in 1947. He was also a passionate daffodil hybridizer and grower.
Wilbur H. Youngman (1896 – 1986), perhaps best known as the author of the Washington Star garden books, was also an early member of THC, joining in 1928, shortly after he moved to the DC area to work for the USDA as a seed specialist. He took on the of- fice of THC president in 1930. As garden editor of the Star, he wrote several editions (between 1944 and 1976) of the Washington Star Garden Book (each edition with its own sub-title—from Special Book for Beginners to The Most Complete Guide for Maryland, Washington, and Virginia Area Gardeners) as well as several other books including Growing Your Trees and Our Victory Garden. His first wife Alice, also a THC member and president, co-authored supplements to the book. Youngman frequently mentioned THC’s first woman president, Margaret Lancaster (see July THC newsletter), and other THC members in his Star column. In 1958 he received an award from the American Seed Trade Association as the best garden writer in the country, and in 1963 THC recognized him for his “out- standing services.” He was also a past president of the American Horticultural Society. —Nancy Newton
Seventh in a series of glimpses of THC history, drawn from the collection of materials made available through the help of Diana Kohn and Historic Takoma Inc., this installment highlights THC’s involvement in the “Azalea City” effort of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the role of Clarence Casey (1897–1997), a THC member for 50 years.
The “top priority program” for Takoma Park, MD in the 1960’s was to become the Nation’s ‘Azalea City’. An Azalea Committee of professional and amateur gardeners had already formed by May, 1962 and was commissioned by the Mayor and Council; public areas had been chosen for planting; and within a year 5,000 slips were under cultivation and 600 bushes had been placed at the southeast corner of Maple and Philadelphia Avenues, with thousands more planned for other spaces.1 The City’s public works staff helped the committee with supplies, plants and water; the Committee did much of the planting. In 1963, the Club donated a total of $300 for azaleas in Upper Portal Park, at Piney Branch Road and Eastern Avenue.
Well-suited for the shady city, azaleas were planted in huge numbers for a while, but as time went on Committee efforts tapered off, and the City had fewer resources for maintenance. Many azaleas planted in Upper Portal and other parks succumbed, due in part to loss of tree canopy and resulting exposure, according to present City Gardener Mike Welsh.
In a “second wave” of interest in the ’70s and ’80s, the Committee regrouped, and several THC members began to start azaleas in their yards, grow them for sale in back of Public Works, and give training on their cultivation. Long-time THC member Clarence E. Casey was a key participant in the revived campaign. Casey and his wife Catherine had joined the Club in 1946. Interviewed in his garden at 504 Elm in 1991, he told the Montgomery Sentinel that he worked on the project between 1975 and 1977, and during that time tens of thousands of plants were propagated.
Meanwhile, the Club joined the Committee to hold sales each April…
“Azaleas: Hundreds of excellent plants, many varieties including Mollis and Backacres — locally grown, fully acclimated to local soils…”
with a goal of extending Azalea City into private gardens.
The Caseys also entered the Club’s flower shows, winning many awards. Catherine’s specialty was delicate and colorful flower arrangements, while Clarence entered individual plants. A plaque in Upper Portal Park, placed by the Club in the early ’80s, commemorates the Caseys. Clarence’s granddaughter, Judy Casey, asked the City to restore the space, and in 2013 the Club donated $500 for deciduous (native) azaleas to be planted there. As growing conditions there improve, with more tree cover, Mike Welsh said he would like to restore Glenn Dales to the Park as well.
Judy Casey retains ribbons and photographs of entries, and still cherishes a prize silver plate. She maintains a Facebook page “Celebrating the Life of Clarence E. Casey” and plans to donate a garden bench in Casey’s memory for the Club’s “Centennial Park” this fall. —Diane Svenonius
1 As many know, Takoma Park’s special relationship to the azalea began with the Club’s tenth President, horticulturalist Benjamin Y. Morrison. Perhaps it was while traveling in Asia on his post-graduate fellowship that he was taken by the range of deep brilliant colors of azaleas growing in shade. Later, at home and then working at USDA’s Glenn Dale Plant Introduction Station, he began crossing azaleas in great numbers, seeking plants that could survive Washington DC winters. In the 1940s, when the Station was directed to grow plants exclusively for the war effort, Morrison began moving his trial plants to gardening friends in Takoma Park.
This month we profile Margaret Lancaster, THC’s first woman president (a timely election-year topic) and a significant figure in the evolution of garden clubs and federations.
The first woman to serve as president of the Club was Margaret Caldwell Lancaster, a garden planner and landscaper who was a vigorous and effective part of the Garden Club movement which appeared early in the 20th Century.1 Miss Lancaster moved to Takoma Park in 1921, living on Harlan Street NW in the District until her death in 1970. Originally from New York and New Jersey, she had majored in Fine Arts at Syracuse University, and studied landscape design at Cornell and at the Ambler School.2 Interviewed much later by a Takoma Park journalist,3 she spoke about the Club and the local garden club scene of that time. “When I first joined [THC], it was composed mostly of men, many of whom were professionals in gardening, connected with the Department of Agriculture. Women were more or less endured as members…it was predominantly a man’s organization. Of course, even though the men considered themselves the gardeners, I believe it was the women who did most of the actual work.
“You can imagine what a unique honor it was to become the first woman president in an organization like that…It was a thrill, too. Of course, I had to work my way up to the job…before becoming president I had served as chairman of almost every committee, assisted with practically every flower show we held, and reached the presidency step by step from landscape gardener [an elected club office], to treasurer, to secretary, to vice-president and then to the top job.”4 She was elected President for the year 1926.
“The Club was one of the best-known garden clubs in the country because so many of our members who worked for the government in the fields of horticulture and agriculture… would be transferred to other locations and would start clubs in their new communities.” Miss Lancaster began to work with garden clubs in Westchester County, N.Y. where she used to speak to gardening groups. After coming to Washington, she spent a great deal of time organizing new clubs in Maryland, Virginia, and the District: “the Chevy Chase- D.C. Garden Club, the Neighborhood Garden Club of Arlington… others in northern Virginia, and many women’s club garden groups.“
“While all the local interest [in gardening groups] was springing up in the early ’30s, I called a meeting of clubs in the area and organized them into the National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs (NCAFGC), the fourth of its kind in the country….I also helped organize the Pennsylvania and Connecticut groups into state federations,” she said. “There were just a few. Now the number of federations is well over 40.” The next move was to band these into a national organization, a project that took about two years but culminated in “a wonderful three-day session here in Washington, and we organized the National Council of State Garden Club Federations, now a powerful influence among gardeners in this country.”
Other roles were Accredited Flower Show Judge (she organized a school for judges in the District Federation), National Council Landscape Appraiser, writer, speaker, and holder of several offices in the Council. She is credited with helping move the Council to undertake the Fern Valley Planting at the National Arboretum. She was also active in many plant societies.
Of the gardening scene of the time, she said “I believe the rising interest in gardening stems from the pride people are taking in the development of their home grounds. It is also good relaxation and whether they admit it or not, most people like to work with their hands [in a type of work different from what most do in their regular jobs]…and there is a feeling of competition present as everyone tries to raise more and better flowers.” As a consultant, she specialized in ‘average size gardens for the average family’: “Although infinitely harder to plan than a large one, it presents a greater challenge in design, minimum of maintenance, with a maximum of beauty and all-year-‘round enjoyment.“5
In 1984, fourteen years after her death, the Executive Board of the NCAFGC approved a fund to commemorate her work in promoting the NCAFGC and other federations of gardening groups, saying that her influence led the National Council to become part of “one of the great movements of the twentieth century in America.”6—Diane Svenonius
1 The Philadelphia Garden Club was founded in 1904; in 1913 12 eastern clubs formed the Garden Club of America.
2 Founded and underwritten by women in 1910 as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women, to provide women with “the practical education they needed to pursue careers in horticulture and landscape architecture,” it eventually merged with Temple University.
3 “The Town… and the People,” by Allen Scott, undated copy archived at Historic Takoma, Inc.
4 THC End-of-year meeting minutes, 1921 – 25, archived at Historic Takoma Inc.
This is fifth installment of the series. In this episode we ask, “How and when did the Club’s newsletters evolve, and who wrote these terrible jokes?”
Over the club’s first eight years, 1916 to 1923, four publications in booklet form were issued to all the homes (about 1,000) in the new Takoma Park development, which straddled Maryland and the District. One contained the Club’s constitution and raison d’etre; two had charts on when to plant vegetables. In 1918, the pamphlet said “It is realized that the existing (wartime) conditions will bring out many gardeners not familiar with the soil and other conditions peculiar to Takoma Park. To meet this condition, the Instruction Committee has been created. Men [with] several years‘ experience with the soil of this locality have been placed on this committee, one in each section of the Park.”
The early “News Letters” were in theory the responsibility of the Instruction and Publicity Committees but “as no one was directly responsible, issuance was not regular but was intermittent.”
In 1947, the new President of the Club, Mr. J. Wallace Talley, declared that the “News Letter” be so “in act as well as name.” Members should inform the editor of “anything of outstanding interest in their gardens. Also if you have anything to sell or desire to buy, the News Letter will be a good medium of publicity.” Questions of general interest could also be sent in.
Newsletters began to come out monthly and covered familiar topics: meeting announcements, gardening advice, requests for volunteers for the dozens of committees, welcome to new members. The most distinctive voice in the archival newsletter boxes is that of “Jake” Talley, who first appears on the masthead in the ’50s, writing a chatty rambling collection of scientific observations, announcements, goofy (sometimes politically incorrect) jokes, and social notes. They run to several pages and usually end with a few lines of poetry. Some examples:
“CAREFUL WITH THAT POWER MOWER In 1963, says Science Newsletter, power lawn mowers took a toll of 50,000 toes and 18,000 fingers. That is a high price for being too lazy to use a hand mower. Your editor does NOT use a power mower. The boy next door cuts his lawn.”
“SMALL CHILD TO MOTHER: Do people come from dust? Yes. Do people return to dust? Yes, why do you ask? Well, there’s somebody under our bed either coming or going.”
“ABOUT THAT SEA BORN KELP touted to totally take away disease and bugs from the garden! Your editor is using it in his garden this spring, and while he does not know yet the reactions of the plants, he has noted an unpleasant reaction in the olfactory organs of man, that gives a clue as to why self-respecting bugs hunt other gardens. Don’t be too optimistic, because some bugs either have no olfactory organs or they just don’t give a hang.”
“PLEASE, PLEASE pay your dues so your News Letter editor can cease this everlasting repetition.”
“BATTLE OF THE SEXES: WSJ reports that men outdo and out purchase the ladies when it comes to gardening. Among the 40 million U.S. gardeners, men spend 7 to 8 times as much as ladies on their hobby and get more blue ribbons in shows. This item was collected by a Men’s Garden Club, and of course our Club became coeducational in 1919 and would not glory in these facts even if they were true.”
About 10 years later, Talley writes: “Your editor sometimes feels a bit frustrated by the ever-increasing restrictions on levity and humor in publications. We heartily agree with many of these… because every individual is one of God’s loved children and should not be the object of ridicule…but it does cut off a fertile source of laugh inducers…” He renamed the News Letter the “Newsette” to reflect his idiosyncratic mixture of topics and styles.
Serving as President again in 1960, Talley is all business, at least in the minutes. The job required him to address a tight budget ($353.71 on hand; $2,000 in the bank), find new storage for flower show equipment (a garage at 912 Aspen Street), remedy the decreasing interest in flower shows (he instituted a “Bragging Session” at monthly meetings to encourage members to feel good about their flowers), and search out a new regular meeting place.
“Newsettes” also reflect the social character of the club. Many couples were members, and served on the large number of committees that kept things going. Newsletters frequently reported illnesses, conveyed get-well wishes, issued birthday congratulations and told who was vacationing where. A highlight of each year was a banquet with live music sometimes provided by the members, such as the “Solos and duets by Mr. and Mrs. Earle Toense” in 1951.
“Doris Gassman moving to Florida which makes us all sad. We all love Doris and can never forget what a loyal friend she was to Grace Richmond. May God bless you Doris and keep you happy.” ”Our wishes for a speedy recovery go also to our esteemed friend, Dr. Freeman Weiss, who was seriously injured by an intruder in his home.” “The report is good on Walter Gannaway. He was taking pictures at the Rose Show on October 3rd.” Obituaries were long and thorough.
Until finally this notice in 1976: “Wallace J. Talley [sic], colorful editor of the Newsette, died Saturday, September 18. Jake, as he was popularly known, was devoted to our club and carried the burden of editing the Newsette for 15 or more years. It will be difficult for his successor to equal Jake. His specialty in horticulture was chrysanthemums. He will be sorely missed.”
Talley was also co-author of the 1970 publication “Now, Once and Again,” which chronicles “the facts” in the Club’s history—as set forth by co-author Arthur Hecht—and “other information that Talley experienced, heard or imagined.” —Diane Svenonius
Where have all the flower shows gone? Not so long in passing.
Flower show is a misnomer—per earlier versions of the THC constitution, they were “exhibitions and demonstrations at the proper seasons to promote horticultural appreciation.” And, they were much more than flowers: fruits and vegetables, houseplants, artistic arrangements, and even garden plots were shown and awarded prizes.
THC lost no time in staging exhibitions. In April 1916, one month after its founding, the club held the first narcissus show in the Takoma, DC library. Founding member Dr. David Griffiths brought the blooms from the grounds of the Department of Agriculture at Arlington, as there were “few cultivated flowers grown in Takoma Park.” Another founding member supplied the vases: bottles discarded by the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the USDA. Club members became “aware of the possibilities enclosed in the unsightly bulbs,” and before the year was out, they staged four more shows of tulips, iris, and chrysanthemums as well as one with the Community Garden Club. Total attendance that year numbered 754 people.
Over the next few years, rose, peony, gladiola, dahlia, camellia, and winter household plants were added to the list of plant-specific exhibits. Azalea shows began after WWII. Seasonal vegetables were always part of the shows, but gradually gave way to predominantly flowers. In the club’s early years, there were as many as nine shows a year! By the second half of the century, these numbers declined and frequently exhibits were often combined (e.g., the 1958 show was the 41st annual tulip show, 6th annual azalea show, and 41st annual iris show in one). The Takoma, DC library remained the venue until 1950, when the shows moved to Takoma, DC Elementary school, then to Takoma Junior High School in 1962, and later to the Takoma Park Community Center. The Takoma Theatre and the Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department were occasionally sites.
THC sometimes joined with DC-area plant societies in holding shows. Iris exhibitions in the 1940s were staged in cooperation with the American Iris Society. THC, the Silver Spring Garden and the Woodridge Garden Clubs sponsored the first National Capital Narcissus Show, and THC and Silver Spring were partners in a National Tulip Show in 1950. Members of THC won the National Capital Dahlia and Iris Society Cup in 1934, and for four consecutive years in the 1940-50s, the Club took home the Blackstone Bowl, awarded at the annual fall show of the Potomac Rose Society to the Club whose members won the highest total number of points in the show.
Orchestrating a THC flower show was something of a three-ring circus. Shortly after the first narcissus show, a member urged the club to learn from his observations at a rose show he attended in Washington, DC. It was “thoroughly organized,” and THC should “plan all our exhibitions well in advance of being held.” THC quickly drew up its detailed rules for exhibits in the same year. Scores of members and other volunteers were required. In addition to the THC standing exhibition committee (typically 6 – 12 members), each show had a lengthy list of tasks to be fulfilled by one or more people: judging (at least three for each genus of flower and two for artistic arrangements); judges’ aides (one for each judge); registration of entrants; publicity; hosting; scheduling; staging; classifying (determining the species and class—by flower color or other characteristic); publicizing; purchasing awards; tabulating points awarded; and setting up and taking down. A show with three types of flowers plus artistic arrangements could have up to 100 classes of entries, with many entrants in each class.
Shows had seasonally themed titles such as “Leap into spring,” “Spring splendor,” and “The miracle of spring.” The artistic arrangement category was also themed, with each class of arrangement representing an aspect of the theme. One year the theme was “the home,” and classes included living room picture window, father’s study, daughter Betty, Bud’s hobby room, and breakfast nook. A fall show included the arrangement classes of moonlight on the patio, fishing, drifting along, just resting, and married harmony. The artistic arrangement category also included classes for juniors, “inter-club,” novice, and by-invitation.
Prizes included first, second, and third place ribbons as well as items purchased from or donated by local garden shops—plants, a sprayer, shears, pruners, and saws, for example. The most treasured awards were trophies for very specific achievements. Some were “perpetual trophies,” established by or in memory of a club member. The annual winner had his or her name engraved on it, kept it a year, and then surrendered it for a miniature. Among them were the Winn T. Simmons (an early club president) Trophy for the most blue ribbons in all flower shows during a year; the Albertson Trophy for the best collection of four named varieties of roses—yellow, white, red, and pink; the Oliver E. Sweet Trophy for the best collection of six different varieties of floribundas and/or polyanthas (but not grandifloras); and the Gertrude Harrison Trophy for the most blue ribbons in artistic arrangements.
Flower shows continued through the 1990s, but club membership was dropping—and the tasks associated with the shows were complex and time consuming. By 1999, the Chairperson of the Exhibits Committee was calling for people to “bring whatever flower makes them happy and enter it in the show.” THC entered the 21st century with nary a word about flower shows.
Although THC’s flower shows are no more, some pieces of the exhibits’ history still remain (although the whereabouts of the perpetual trophies remain a mystery). A few fortunate current club members have in their possession the vases and/or their wood storage boxes, purchased in 1918 with a $10 award from the now out-of-business Woodward and Lothrop at $3.00 for 100 vases. These were used through the last of the shows. The Club is also privileged to have on loan a set of colorful hand-sewn banners, made by long-time member Mickie Riley in the late 1980s. These will be displayed as part of the THC centennial exhibit at Historic Takoma, Inc.
“The aims of the Takoma Park Horticultural Improvement Club are to promote the culture of flowers and vegetables, to beautify Takoma Park through the improvement of its home grounds, parkings and streets…” So said its first constitution.
At the start, the area was known more for its trees than its flowers “for at that time, the larger part of TP was forest trees and the hillsides were covered with wild Azalea, Trailing Arbutus and Birdsfoot Violets. “ In fact, the Club proposed to the Town of Takoma Park that a Forest Warden be appointed (the idea was rejected). A 1923 THC newsletter says “The problem which confronts most of the members… is how to have flowers, lawns and gardens and still retain our trees… While many of our lesser attractions are the growth of but a year, the trees are the product of an ordinary lifetime, and we should hesitate before sacrificing one of them.”
But the club took its public gardening mission seriously. “Within a year after its establishment, the THC was energetically involved with civic activities in the geographic area… during March of 1917, it agreed to assist the City in securing several small tracts of land on various streets for parks.” Club programs—cooperative buying of bulbs, plants and soil amendments, plant sales, flower shows, talks, and cash donations for “beautification”— are credited through the decades for the home gardens and parks that mark the city today. In 1933 and again in 1958 THC helped the Takoma, D.C. P-TA to develop a plot for flowering shrubs and perennials at what is now Takoma Education Campus on Piney Branch Rd. DC, and members donated plants. In 1993 and 1997 the club donated sums for butterfly gardens were donated to three Takoma Park neighborhood schools.
In the early sixties, the Club gave support to the city’s Azalea Committee in its huge planting effort to bring about “Azalea City”. Long-time THC member Clarence Casey worked for the City’s Public Works Department, where he rooted and fostered over 15,000 azalea cuttings, which were distributed free to City residents. THC and the City jointly held plant sales and flower shows, particularly azalea shows, and plant sales were held jointly by the City and THC, and club members planted azaleas in their yards. A 1991 Takoma Voice article on the Club’s Diamond Jubilee proclaimed “Members at the Root of City’s Lush Landscape,” and asked, “Would Takoma Park have the wealth and diversity of azaleas, flowers and other plantings without the THC? Probably not.”
From 1966 to 1998, the records show cash donations made to Friends of the Thomas Siegler Gardens; Garden Resources of Washington (GROW), which sponsored community food gardens; and $2,000 for a greenhouse at Takoma Park Middle Intermediary School. The Library in DC where the Club was founded also received attention, in gratitude for years of hosting its members and housing its archives. In 1989, for example, the club arranged for landscaping of the Library’s front space with holly, red maple, shrubs and flowers. Club member Dorothy Cichello spoke at the dedication of B. Y. Morrison Park in Takoma Junction in October 1992, where “Historic Takoma and the Takoma Park Horticultural Club have made generous donations to acquire two bronze plaques, noting the importance of B. Y. Morrison and the significance of Takoma Junction.” In 1990 the Club planted a red maple at Memorial Park in honor of the Centennial of the City’s incorporation, with a plaque which can still be seen. Over the last decade, Club also donated thousands of dollars worth of flower bulbs to the City.
This year, at its own Centennial, the Club seeks to carry on the long tradition with commemorative plantings at the corner of Piney Branch Road and Philadelphia Avenue.
Additional notes from the authors
During WWI, THC sponsored local Boys and Girls Garden Club, a forerunner of present-day 4H clubs.
In 1959, members cleared and planted in front of Swartzell Methodist Home for Children (orphanage) 2nd & Sheridan NW. [Archives have a list of plants donated and a hand-drawn sketch of design on yellow paper, which might be an illustration for the article, if one is needed.]
In 50s, club advised Emory Methodist Church, Brightwood, DC on landscaping. Also plantings around Woodside Methodist Church, in Silver Spring — abelia, spreading yew, hichsi yew, glossy privet, holly & photinia.
A “lovely little quote” from the 1955 Chrysanthemum Show program:
Takoma is an Indian word meaning “nearer Heaven.”
THC has sponsored this concept with its activities in the Takoma area.
This is the second installment of the series. Here we tell the history of THC’s bulb sales, as recorded in several documents.
The Club’s first constitution spelled out “serving as a medium for co-operative buying of seeds, plants, and sundries” as one of its principal activities. Within months of its founding in 1916, bulbs became the first cooperative buying venture (“in a rather interesting manner,” according to the mid-century club historian, archivist and officer, Arthur Hecht). During the summer of 1916, the Department of Agriculture sought bids for the importation of bulbs, an order was placed with the firm submitting the lowest bid, and the bulbs were delivered. A few days later, a shipment of similar bulbs was received from the Dutch company, M. Van Waveren & Sons, which had mistaken the request for a bid for an order. The Department of Agriculture refused the shipment.
A charter member of THC, who was also the Department of Agriculture official in charge of bulb growing, brought this “opportunity to obtain the unusually fine bulbs at wholesale rates” to the Club’s officers. Without a vote by the general membership and with a treasury of $15.31, the Club bought the shipment “on faith” to resell to members. This act proved successful. Members bought all the bulbs. M. Van Waveren & Sons wrote “If the Takoma Park Horticultural Improvement Club is an organization which, in six days, can absorb $600 (approximately $13,000 in today’s dollars) worth of bulbs, it is an organization with which we would like to do future business,” and offered to continue to supply the Club with bulbs at wholesale rates. THC continued to import bulbs from the same company for at least the next 50 years.
The Club has held bulb sales almost every one of its 100 years, with the exception of the World War II period and a year or two in the 21st century. Bulb orders reached a peak in 1925 — 333 pre-orders for 125,000 bulbs amounting to $3,328 (approximately $45,000 in today’s dollars) — as compared to the Club’s current purchases for resale of about $2,000). At some as-yet-to-be-learned point in the Club’s second half-century, bulb sales also became an important fundraising activity to supplement membership dues. (As a cooperative buying activity it was considered a “service to members” and not a source of income.) Additionally, the Club stopped importing bulbs directly; it currently obtains them through a third party. Although this relieves today’s members of the need to sort individual orders, a mid-century THC Newsletter suggests that some members were disappointed that they were not called to be part of the repackaging effort in a member’s garage.
Many of the narcissuses, jonquils, and other bulbs seen growing in the gardens of older (and sometimes newer) homes in Takoma, DC and Takoma Park today are likely to be the babies of bulbs from THC. Home-grown bulbs were featured in the club’s flower shows, which continued into the 1990s. Takoma was the site of the Department of Agriculture’s trial gardens for the introduction of foreign bulbs. The search through the archives has found only one complaint about the quality of the bulbs: the 1929 order. Photos taken in the spring of 1930 at the homes of members E.A. Hollowell on 5th Street, NW and L.W. Kephart on Maple Avenue document this grievance. —Nancy Newton