History of the Norristown Garden Club
Founded in 1913
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 and the meeting places changed to various public buildings throughout Norristown and the surrounding area, including Philadelphia. Museums, churches, a tennis club, township buildings, retirement communities, shopping mall auditoriums, the County Fire Academy and even Zoom, a video conferencing platform, have all been used for our meetings. Since 2007, with a few exceptions, general meetings have been held at the Fairview Village Church.
Our club has had a well-attended fall luncheon meeting in various venues since 1984 and a Spring Tea or Luncheon to welcome our new members since 1987, at which since 2010, we have also honored our 25- and 50-year members.
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 labeled 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. We currently support gardens at the Norristown State Hospital, two schools in Norristown, and the greenhouses at Variety, the Children’s Charity of the Delaware Valley. The Elmwood Park Zoo has always been of interest to our club. In the early 1980’s we contributed to a Waterfowl Exhibit. In 1988, our 75th Anniversary Project was to formulate a landscape design and planting for the Zoo’s picnic area and entrance. Recently we gave them a rare tree to help them become an Arboretum. 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 we assisted the students of the Cole Manor School in East Norriton in creating a Butterfly Garden at the school. In 2007 we created, and continue to maintain, a Butterfly Garden at the Fairview Village Church, where we currently hold our meetings. 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 in 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.
The club began a series of annual visits to notable gardens, homes and historic places; the first, on August 28, 1913, was to Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. These 'Gardens on the Go' trips continue to this day.
The first printed Yearbook 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. Starting in 1983 a club newsletter, Garden Clippings, was mailed to members four times a year; it is currently sent electronically. Annual dues have also entitled members to a subscription to the Keystone Gardener, a publication of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania since 1985.
An article entitled “Tot’s Annual Flower Show Held Tomorrow Will Bloom in All Its Glory at Home of Garden Club President, Miss Isabella Walker” appeared in The Times Herald, September 7, 1923. This group was called The Little Gardeners and was our first Junior Garden Club. By 2003, the junior club met regularly for interesting, educational activities at the Stewart Middle School in Norristown and became known as the Youth Gardeners. In May 2002, this group earned 28 ribbons at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Junior Gardeners’ Flower Show. Currently, our members work with students at a Norristown Elementary School and interested students at Stewart Middle School. In addition to the Norristown school children, our Youth Gardeners include friends and relatives of our members. All of the children are invited to participate in our annual club Flower Show and to enter Pressed Plant designs in the PHS Philadelphia 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. In 2019 we celebrated our 70th annual Holiday House tour with a sold-out tour of five decorated homes and a Festival of Trees at an empty historic mansion.
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 a nursing home in Norristown. Christmas gifts continue to be sent to patients at Norristown State Hospital. Fresh and dried flower arrangements were made for many years for the Valley Forge Historical Society Museum. Members have also volunteered at Bowman’s Hill State Wildflower Preserve. Since 1993 a committee has provided floral designs for the Ronald McDonald House each year. For many years, Norristown Garden Club donated an award for the best floral Painting in the Norristown Art League’s annual show. In the past, awards were also given to art students of Norristown High School for flower show posters. We began our continuing 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 Horticulture. In 2017 a bequest from a deceased member allowed us to establish an endowed fund for increased scholarship awards. 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, the Association for the Blind, local hospitals, nursing homes, and many Senior Adult Activity Centers of Montgomery County. 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. Horticultural Therapy continues to be an ongoing activity to interact with seniors in the area.
Horticulture and Flower Arrangement Workshops have been scheduled most months for many years. A 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. As a club we have won many blue ribbons for horticulture and design at the Philadelphia Flower Show. We are proud of all our members who enter the PHS flower show every year.
DISTRICT, STATE AND NATIONAL ACTIVITIES
Norristown Garden Club is a charter member of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania (GCFP), formed March 27, 1930. The Federation logo, which can be seen on the Keystone Gardener, was designed by Miss Lois Rapp, a 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 GCFP Governors Trophy in 1969, 1999, 2013 (our one-hundredth anniversary year), and 2019. 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. Our membership includes nine Flower Show Judges, five Landscape Design Consultants and a Gardening Study Consultant, all accredited by National Council. Throughout the years, Norristown Garden Club members have been active as State and District Chairmen and held many other offices in the state and National Garden Clubs. 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 the district reorganization moved us to District XI). Susan Thatcher was editor of the GCFP's 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! We continue to provide members to the boards of District XI, GCFP and National Garden Clubs, Inc.