X. Another Club Member of Note

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?”

—Diane Svenonius 

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