A picture is worth a thousand words
On April 15, 1913, seven women met at the home of Miss Bertha Slingluff Harry on Swede Street and organized the Norristown Garden Club to promote interest in the culture of flowers by exchanging ideas, seeds, plants and bulbs. The officers were chosen and dues were fixed at twenty-five cents a year. On May 17, 1913, the following notice appeared under Mixed Locals of The Norristown Daily Herald, now The Times Herald: All flower lovers are invited to meet at the YMCA rooms this afternoon at 3 o’clock to learn the plan of the Garden Club. The first meeting to which all flower lovers were invited adjourned with seventeen paid members.
By the sixth year, private homes no longer could accommodate the increased membership. Mr. H. Severn Regar offered the use of the Regar Museum, DeKalb and Fornance Streets. Nine years later meetings were held in St. John’s Church House and later in the Ersine Tennis Club House, 1529 DeKalb Street. From 1966 through 1984 the club met in the auditorium of Strawbridge & Clothier, Plymouth Meeting Mall. Plymouth Township Building was our meeting place from 1985 to 1997. From the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1999, our meetings were held at the Reformed Church of the Ascension in Jeffersonville. The Norristown Garden Club has met at the Normandy Farms Estates in Blue Bell since 1999. Our club has had a fall luncheon meeting since 1984 and it has always been well attended.
PLANTINGS — In 1913, a garden was planted for the YWCA on Swede Street. In 1918 trees were planted at the Gotwals and Washington Schools in Norristown in honor of veterans of the First World War. An orchard in Nouvron, France was planted in 1919 to replace one devastated during that same war. In 1935 thirty-seven trees in Elmwood Park were identified and marked with durable markers. In 1936 a plot at the east end of Airy Street was planted. In 1945 ten dogwood trees were given to Elmwood Park in memory of Adolf Muller, an honorary member. Shrubs were grouped along the banks of Stony Creek between Main and Airy Streets. Other plantings included those at the Rough Rider Statue in Fairmount Park, at the Abington Friends Home (now the site of the Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library), at the school for physically handicapped children in West Norriton, at the Wild Flower Preserve at Bowman’s Hill and on a traffic island at Johnson Highway and Markley Street.
In 1973, we donated a landscaped planting at Montgomery Hospital in honor of our founder, Miss Bertha S. Harry. Our club’s project for the Bicentennial was the restoration of the eighteenth century German kitchen garden at the Peter Wentz Farmstead in Worcester. We also did a planting at the new Montgomery County-Norristown Library in 1976. A major project, culminating in 1987, consisted of researching, planning and executing the plan for a pre-1810 English kitchen garden at the restored Livezey Store, Plymouth Meeting. In the fall of 1986 we were responsible for the planting of a learning garden at Gotwals Elementary School in Norristown.
The Elmwood Park Zoo has always been of much interest to our club. In the early 1980’s we contributed to a Water Fowl Exhibit. In 1988, our 75th Anniversary Project was to formulate a landscape design and planting for the Zoo’s picnic area and entrance. From 1985 to 1997 the club donated two Kwanzan cherry trees annually to the Plymouth Township headquarters grounds in appreciation for the use of their facility. In 1994 we contributed $3000 toward trees in the Azalea Garden located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The club provided design advice and financial support in 1995 to the Historical Society of Montgomery County to restore and plant new shrubs at the tomb of Civil War hero General Winfield Scott Hancock. The tomb is located in Montgomery Cemetery in West Norriton Township. In 1999 the students of the Cole Manor School in East Norriton were assisted in creating a Butterfly Garden at the school. Norristown Garden Club members volunteered their time and the club donated $1,000 to help Habitat for Humanity plant gardens at three homes in Norristown 2001.
A donation of $2,500 was sent to help with the restoration of the gardens at the Pennsylvania Governor’s mansion in Harrisburg in the spring of 2001. The Norristown Garden Club donated $1,000 to the Cole Manor School in East Norriton Township that same year. The money was used to create an outdoor habitat for birds and animals displaced by a nearby housing development. In 2002, $5,000 was provided for new plantings at the wall near the Fornance Street dam in Norristown.
OUTINGS –The club began a series of annual visits to notable gardens, homes and historic places; the first on August 28, 1913 to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. This year’s plan for Gardens on the Go is a bus trip to Chestertown, Maryland.
PUBLICATIONS –The first printed year book appeared in 1916. The emblem used for the Norristown Garden Club since 1929 was designed by Mrs. Charles Weaver Miller for a card to be sent with Christmas plants to shut-ins. Since 1983 a club newsletter, Garden Clippings, has been mailed to members four times a year. Annual dues have also entitled members to a subscription to The Keystone Gardener, the Pennsylvania State Federation publication since 1985.
JUNIOR GARDEN CLUB — The following article appeared in The Times Herald, September 7, 1923: Tot’s Annual Flower Show Held Tomorrow Will Bloom in All Its Glory at Home of Garden Club President, Miss Isabella Walker. This group was called The Little Gardeners and was our first Junior Garden Club. Now the junior club meets regularly for interesting, educational activities at the Stewart Middle School in Norristown and is known as the Youth Gardeners. In May of 2002 this group earned 28 ribbons at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Junior Gardeners’ Flower Show.
HOUSE AND GARDEN TOURS — The first Holiday House Tour was in December 1950, with 100 tickets sold at one dollar each. In 2002 the garden club held its 53rd annual Holiday House tour and more than 1300 tickets were sold at $20 each. The first Garden Days for which a fee was charged was in 1940. Town and Country Garden Tours were held again in 1970 and 1971. In June 1986 our first House and Garden Tour; was initiated. These various tours continue to aid the scholarship and civic improvement funds of Norristown Garden Club. May 1998 was the first time we combined a house and garden tour with a standard placement flower show. That year’s proceeds raised monies toward $1000 designated for a paver at the U. S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. In 2002 our standard placement flower show and house and garden tour also featured a members’ art show and an antique and classic car exhibit.
COMMUNITY SERVICE — In 1986 Norristown Garden Club received a plaque for 32 years of consecutive service to the Montgomery County Geriatric Center and Rehabilitation in Royersford. We currently donate Christmas arrangements to the Norristown facility of the Geriatric Center, located in the former Sacred Heart Hospital. Christmas gifts continue to be sent to patients at Norristown State Hospital.
Fresh and dried flower arrangements were for many years made for the Valley Forge Historical Society Museum. Members have also volunteered at Bowman’s Hill State Wild Flower Preserve. Since 1993 a committee has provided floral designs for Ronald McDonald House each year.
Norristown Garden Club continues to donate an award for the best floral Painting in the Norristown Art League’s annual show. Forty years ago awards were also given to art students of Norristown High for flower show posters. We began our sponsorship of a Garden Contest, with cash awards, for residents of the Borough of Norristown in 1985. We have done various plantings at the Montgomery County Historical Society in Norristown as well as exterior Christmas decorations. Since 1971 our club has awarded one or more scholarships annually toward education in subjects related to gardening. Recently we have given at least $1,000 per year and this year the NGC will give $6,000 for scholarships to local high school seniors. We also offer a reimbursement of $50 to members who further their knowledge through courses in floral design or horticulture.
Garden Therapy has always been one of our projects. We have participated at Norristown State Hospital, Montgomery County Association for the Blind, Montgomery Hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital, nursing homes, and the Senior Adult Activity Center of Montgomery County in Norristown. On several occasions we have honored a request to decorate an historic house in Fairmount Park for Christmas. In 1987 the decorations were judged; our work at Cedar Grove earned us a blue ribbon.
EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES –Horticultural and Flower Arrangement Workshops have been scheduled monthly for many years. Show of the Month competition in design and horticulture is one educational feature of our meetings; an informative conservation report is frequently another. Outstanding speakers, a tradition with our club, create enthusiasm and help us to increase our knowledge.
DISTRICT, STATE AND NATIONAL ACTIVITIES — Norristown Garden Club is a charter member of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, formed March 27, 1930. The Federation logo, which can be seen on The Keystone Gardener, was designed by Miss Lois Rapp, local artist, who submitted it in state competition. Our club has won numerous awards in many categories at the state level. The highlights were winning the Governors Trophy in 1969 and 1999. We sponsored a Speech and Essay Contest in local high schools on topics selected by National Council for a period of time. In 1987 our Speech Contest winner went on to win first place at the state and regional levels.
In 2003 our membership includes nine Flower Show Judges, six Landscape Design Consultants and three Gardening Study Consultants, all accredited by National Council. Throughout the years Norristown Garden Club members have been active as State and District Chairmen. In 1967, Bobbie Hilderbrand was Director of District I and went on to serve on the National Board. Charlotte Cunningham was Director of District I from 1995-1997. (In 2001 there was district reorganization and we are now in District XI). Susan Thatcher was editor of the Pennsylvania state organizations publication, Keystone Gardener, from 1997-2001. Helene Detwiler, another past president of our club, was elected president of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania in 1999. This was the first time our club had produced a state president, and her two year term was indeed a highlight of our history!
The vision of a small group of women grew and developed into a membership of over 250. We are justifiably proud of the accomplishments of Norristown Garden Club having celebrated 100 years in 2013.
As a club we have won many blue ribbons for horticulture and design at the Philadelphia Flower Show. We are very proud of all our members who enter the PHS flower show every year and win many blue ribbons.
In 2013 we won “The Governor’s Trophy Award”.