National Garden Club Schools


During 2014 I had the fine fortune of attending all four Schools offered by The Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts, accredited by National Garden Clubs, Inc. I noticed the large number of people who had traveled from other states to take these courses. The schools are interesting, stimulating, fun and on our doorstep…or at least not states away from us. Here are some snapshots of moments from those courses:

At Gardening School, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Mass., we were being taught plant propagation by the Director emeritus of Tower Hill, John Trexler. Watching him use his hands, talking to the plants, observing his ease, absorbing his helpful “hints,” was exceptional. His level of comfort was like learning by your father’s knee. Not only did we leave his classes with knowledge and the assurance that we could go to our gardens and do this too, but his love of the plants, his composure, common sense, and his skill seemed to enter our beings as if by osmosis. In the two days packed with fascinating classes, what a pleasure it was to spend three of those hours with this knowledgeable man. He concluded by giving each of us a tangible example of propagation by his own hand. His beautiful large Mother-in-law’s tongue is now happily living in Cohasset!

Both Environmental School and Landscape Design School were held at The Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Elm Bank Reservation in Wellesley. I would win any prize for lack of natural scientific aptitude, so I was delighted to be given complex information with such skill that even I understood. Evan Couzo, a Postdoctoral Associate at M.I.T., said that he was determined to have us understand the ecology of air quality, a course that he teaches at M.I.T. He succeeded in spades! I also thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent discussing environmental ethics. Surprising even to me, who could predict that I would spend time on the roof of Natick High School? Yes! We were surrounded by a photovoltaic system, installed by the town and its partner Ameresco. That company financed, owns, maintains, and will remove all when the 20 year contract ends. In the meantime, Natick purchases electricity at a rate lower than the rate currently paid to its electric utility. They work together to educate the school’s students and Natick’s residents about renewable energy. I left the course with a reading list: Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, just to name a couple. Yet, despite my feelings of being way behind where I should be, Environmental School left me feeling more in control of interpreting daily headlines than any other one thing I do during the entire year. The coup de grace was certainly an invitation to dinner, extended by Heidi Kost-Gross, past president of GCFM, to all of the members of the Environmental Consultant’s Council. What wonderful conversation, sharing of ideas, delicious food and wine were enjoyed in Heidi’s charming Wellesley home.

Landscape School is THE school everyone loves. How fun it has been, over various courses, to view slides of some of the world’s most exciting landscapes and to hear them being discussed by landscape experts. What I especially enjoyed in this last school, however, was a look at a space close to all of us-Cambridge, Massachusetts. In discussing public landscapes J. Roger Booth, who had served as Director of Urban Design for the City of Cambridge from 1979 to 2014, set forth the historical development of “Rooms” in the urban environment, including spatial structure, mass and void, etc. and then used Harvard Square and Central Square to explore these ideas. Kendall Square is currently the concentration of a national competition to improve its variety of “rooms.” Mr. Booth is a juror for these open spaces and the links between existing and new spaces in the national design competition. He outlined and discussed some of the considerations in this one project: Point Park, MBTA station, ice skating rink, Broad Canal canoes, new “Porkchop” site, new two acre park, new triangle park…. This is happening NOW! My classmates and I shall certainly be watching the Boston Globe to follow what will happen next.

Flower Show School, held in Milford, Mass was the first of that school I had attended. It was a challenge despite the quality of the faculty which included some of the most remarkable teachers in the Massachusetts Federation. This course is four courses in one: growing, staging, exhibiting and judging. I shall return on April 29, 30 and May 1, 2015. It is a challenge and the third course has already been highlighted for October 2015. Why don’t you join me! We shall be student judges after our third course.

When you have passed the second course in Environment, Landscaping, and Garden Schools, you will be eligible to join the Consultant’s Council for that School. In CGCC there is representation on the councils, but the Landscape Council has the largest number: five of our members belong, including one “master” and one “emeritus.” Here are a few of the things those Councils will be doing over the next year: spending a weekend at Maria Stella’s Platinum certified LEED Berkshire home with its sustainable landscape. (Do you know that Maria sells her extra electricity to the local Utility!) Another excursion will be a guided visit to Mytoi, the Japanese style garden on Martha’s Vineyard and then visits to several private Cape Cod gardens. The Rhode Island Spring Flower and Garden Show is another of the offerings. So, too, there will be a visit to Deer Island in Boston Harbor. Another trip will take the Consultants to the home, office and archives of Frederick Law Olmsted in Brookline. How’s that for a wee taste of what you could be doing! Do think about it. In the new year, closer to the time of the individual schools, will supply you with all of the information you will need to apply. When you are on the site, press “education.” On the drop down menu press “schools and registration.” Gardening School’s dates are April 9-10, 2015. As I have said, Flower Show School will also be held in April. October and November are the usual months for Landscape and Environment Schools. You know where to find me. I’ll be delighted to help answer any questions, to car pool, however I might be of help. The schools are a treasure, a remarkable resource that we should use now.

written by Jan Todd