GARDENING GODDESS: Horticultural century

IMAGE: The Takoma Horticultural Club in the Takoma Park 2015 Independence Day Parade. Photo by Bill Brown.

GARDENING GODDESS • BY KATHY JENTZ

Takoma Horticultural Club (THC) is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016 and is believed to be among the oldest, continuously active garden clubs in the nation.

Most of the current 120+ members of the THC are in southern Montgomery County, the bordering areas of Prince George’s County, and northwest Washington DC.

The club usually meets the third Wednesday of the month at the Historic Takoma headquarters in downtown Takoma Park, MD. The meetings are free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to bring a snack to share and a recycled nametag to wear. The meeting programs consist of extremely brief business and introductions followed by a talk by an invited expert garden speaker on various subjects. Past topics have included native plants, shade gardening, and beginning vegetable growing.

A Fascinating History

The Takoma Horticultural Club (THC) was patterned after the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The first meeting was held in the Takoma DC Public Library on March 1, 1916 and consisted of employees of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Service who lived in the Takoma area. Mr. D. N. Shoemaker was elected President and the club was then named the Takoma Park Horticultural Improvement Club. Membership was originally restricted to men. After three years they discovered the indispensability of women and in 1919 the Constitution was modified to admit women. This preceded by one year the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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THC Club logo t-shirts and totes circa 2006. As part of the club’s 100th anniversary plans, they plan to freshen up the logo artwork and perhaps offer a redesign for sale to members.

The aims of the Club have not changed over the years, although several activities have been curtailed, many still continue. The Club originally offered detailed landscaping services free to members.

Collective buying of plants, seeds, bulbs, and lime was a popular service. Pruning demonstrations were held as was a large plant exchange where members shared surplus plants.

Flower Shows had a prominent place in the early activities of the Club as a way to stimulate the acquisition of new varieties. The first Narcissus, Dahlia, and Rose shows were held in 1916. Tulip and Iris shows started in 1917. (An early Iris enthusiast was B. Y. Morrison, who went on to found the National Arboretum and develop the Glen Dale azaleas.) In 1923, the first Gladiolus Show was staged. Peony shows began in 1925. In the fall, a combined fruit, flower and vegetable show was held.

During World War I, the THC concentrated on the production of vegetables. It purchased and distributed seeds, obtained and developed garden sites, and sponsored the Boys and Girls Garden Club, which was a forerunner of the 4-H Clubs.

Through its collective buying, exchange sales, information services, lectures, and demonstrations, the Takoma Horticultural Club has influenced the planting of thousands of trees and shrubs, and millions of bulbs and plants.

Club Benefits the Community

The clubs’ main methods of communication is its Yahoo group email list, which is open to anyone interested in participating in it (see: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/takomahort/), and its newly revamped web site, www.takomahort.org. A few years ago, the THC did away with its printed newsletter. The cost and time savings from no longer printing and mailing the monthly publication was considerable.

THC membership is $12 per year. Membership benefits include the aforementioned newsletter and web site, club meetings with expert garden speakers, as well as members-only events including a yearly Potluck Dinner and Indoor Plant Exchange in January, twice yearly Garden Plant Exchanges in spring and fall, a Club Picnic each summer, free garden consultations, and wholesale bulb order.

Many local Takoma Park residents have purchased premium bulbs for their gardens at the THC bulb booth at the Takoma Park Street Festival, which takes place annually on the first Sunday of October. The bulb sale booth is the club’s biggest annual fundraiser. For several years, the club has used the proceeds from the bulb sale to purchase gardening books for the City of Takoma Park, MD library and the Takoma branch library in Washington, DC. This year the proceeds will be used to partially fund the club’s 100th anniversary celebration.

100th Anniversary Plans

A group of club members has met several times over the past few months to discuss how the THC will celebrate its milestone year. The meetings resulted in two main initiatives being planned now. They are a celebratory party for the end of next summer. The party will include a sharing of the club’s history being researched now by a sub-group of members as well as period entertainment and music from the club’s founding year. The second part of the 100th celebration will be a commemorative planting in a local city park, which is being selected now by club members and Takoma Park city employees. More details on both initiatives will be shared with club members in the coming months via the club’s revived newsletter.

THC members both current and lapsed are encouraged to join us in this year’s celebratory efforts. We invite your memories, mementos, and photos of past club events . Contact the club’s leadership via Diane Svenonius at dbsvenonius@msn.com.

About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.