A Summary of Garden Club of Denver History 1916 – 2019

photos submitted by Muffie Dahlberg

The Garden Club of Denver was founded in 1916 “to promote interest in gardening, in the naturalization of Rocky Mountain flora, and in civic planting” and elected to The Garden Club of America (GCA) in 1920.  

True to its mission, the club and its members have always been involved with civic projects and activities in Denver and along the Front Range.

  • In 1919, a Wild Flower Preserve was established on Genesee Mountain, helping to focus attention on the necessity of securing a Botanic Garden in the Rocky Mountain Region.  
  • In 1921, fliers to promote conservation were printed and distributed in Denver Public Schools and efforts were made to eliminate billboards.
  • In 1922, the Art Museum’s Chappell House Garden was established. 
  • 1938, a Garden Center was built by the city on the Platte River at Alameda and Santa Fe; club members worked on it and donated funds.
  • From 1939-1958, a garden in Central City located between the Teller House and the Opera House was maintained by the club. 
  • In 1946, “Horticulture House” was presented to the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association as its headquarters by Mrs. John Evans, president of the Garden Club of Denver; five members of the club were on the Executive Committee- this was the forerunner of the Denver Botanic Gardens. 

These early years were also spent actively planning a botanic garden and establishing its location. In 1951, two members of the club signed the Certificate of Incorporation for the Denver Botanic Gardens and one, Mrs. Evans was the first President of the Board; three other members sat on the Board. In 1954, the Denver Botanic Gardens was made the main project of the Garden Club of Denver. The club and individual members continued to be involved with the planning of the gardens, the Endowment Fund, donation of the Waring House and greenhouse. In the 1970’s, the club assumed planning and installation of plantings for the Lobby Court, financed the restoration of the Hammer Garden and developed and worked in the Home Demonstration Garden. Among other financial donations the club has given to the Botanic Gardens, $3,000 was donated for Plant Asia in 2003; more than $20,000 was raised for the Green Roof in 2007 and in 2009, more than $100,000 was raised for naming rights to “Lainie’s Cutting Garden” in honor of our member Lainie Jackson. This focus on the Gardens continues today as members assist in the cutting gardens; create floral arrangements in the lobby court, Waring House, the Victorian Garden and for the annual Fete des Fleurs gala; sit on the Board and work on various fundraising events.

In 1958, the Denver Botanic Gardens signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Forest Service to establish a trail at Mt. Goliath, part of the Mount Evans ecosystem. In 1996, the project was reborn and the Garden Club of Denver worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Forest Service and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to redevelop the M. Walter Pesman Trail and the Dos Chappell Nature Center. New alpine gardens, educational displays and brochures, trail signage, docent tours and universally accessible trails, were undertaken by members of the club, through volunteer efforts and fundraising of thousands of dollars. In 1999, the project was a finalist for The Garden Club of America’s Founders Fund award, winning $5,000; by 2003 when the last funds were donated, $43,786 had been raised by the club for this project.

From the 1970’s to the present, the club has been involved in other civic projects such as:

  • designing a garden at the Smedley House in 9th Street Park with Historic Denver; 
  • beautifying the Westwood Community Housing Project with windowboxes; 
  • fundraising to benefit Historic Denver, Creekfront Park and the Art Museum; 
  • donating our glass slides made in the 1930’s of Denver area gardens and Colorado landscapes to the Denver Public Library; copies were sent to the GCA’s Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington; 
  • restoring Box Canyon in City Park in 2000 as a millennium gift to the City of Denver- this was the site of the original Denver Botanic Gardens; 
  • in 2001, printing gift cards of Colorado wildflowers from photographs taken by Angela Overy as well as note cards printed from our collection of glass slides; 
  • from 2002 to 2007, donating and installing landscaping at Four Mile Historic Park, the old stagecoach stop that is now a living museum depicting life in early Colorado; 
  • designing and installing decorations for the 2007 Denver Antique Show;
  • from 2009 to 2013, participating in the GCA Centennial Tree Project to commemorate the 2013 Centennial of GCA- “3 Trees and a River” studied 3 Colorado native trees and the Platte River and planted cottonwoods at Chatfield collaborating with the Cottonwood Institute; 
  • in 2016, celebrating our own Centennial with a gift to the community that involved the National Park Service, also celebrating its centennial- and History Colorado: we developed four videos on the national parks in Colorado for third and fourth graders and a map of Colorado for classroom use with lesson plans for teachers; 40,000 stickers highlighting our four national parks were produced; we raised $42,625 for this project;
  • collaborating with The Byers-Evans House in 2018 to invigorate the historic house garden.

Over the years, Garden Club of Denver has participated in GCA’s Partners for Plants project. At the 2006 Annual Meeting in Denver, we received a GCA Zone Conservation Award, a collaborative project of the Broadmoor GC, Carmel-by-the-Sea GC, GCD, Santa Fe GC and Woodside-Atherton GC “in recognition of a significant project in the Rio Grande National Forest to benefit a rare medicinal herb ‘Ligusticum porteri’, Osha.” Recently, we partnered with the Broadmoor Garden Club to revegetate a campground site in Rocky Mountain National Park with western wheatgrass. In 2018, club members worked with City of Denver horticulturists to transition Bear Creek Park to the natural habitat that exists on the banks of the creek; seedlings of low water and pollinator perennials were started in city greenhouses and planted, seedballs were tossed, weeding and planting continue and crushed stone will be added to foot paths in 2019.

The club has solicited Garden Club of America awards for many Denver leaders and non-profit organizations in the fields of horticulture, conservation and flower arranging. They include Ed Connors and Panayoti Kelaidis, both Honorary Members of GCA; Rob Proctor, Anne Ophelia Douden, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Carolyn and Don Etter, Denver Urban Gardens, Shirley and Kent Johnson, Judy Elliott, Sydney Macy, Mark Fusco, Kelly Grummons, BJ Dyer as well as many members of the club. This year, we are delighted and proud that Brian Vogt, the CEO of the Denver Botanic Gardens, will be presented with the Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Award at the GCA Annual Meeting in May.

Many flower shows, lectures and auctions have occurred over the years in various locations such as the Art Museum, the Ice House and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Our last GCA Flower Show, the Power of Flowers, took place in 2011 at the Botanic Gardens.

Garden Club of Denver has hosted or participated in a number of The Garden Club of America meetings:

  • in 1956 the Annual Meeting was held in Colorado Springs and delegates spent their first day in Denver; 
  • in 1998 the national GCA Conservation and NAL committees spent a week here; 
  • in 2006, our 90th year, we proudly hosted the Annual Meeting of The Garden Club of America, along with our fellow GCA members from the Broadmoor Garden Club; this meeting brought 700 GCA members to Denver for outstanding meetings, speakers, tours and meals; the entire club participated and it was an enormous success; 
  • the 2018 GCA Annual Meeting was held in San Francisco and GCD chaired the Badge Committee; over a dozen volunteers attended the meeting; 
  • in September 2018, we hosted the GCA Conservation Study Group in Boulder and Denver, bringing 44 GCA members and highlighting the steppe ecosystem of eastern Colorado; the meeting was highly successful with 18 diverse speakers, wonderful hikes and dinners; 37 GCD members joined 13 committee members to contribute to its success; 
  • this September, the club will host the Shirley Meniece Horticulture Conference at the Botanic Gardens- another huge undertaking by our club as 245 attendees are expected for several days of exceptional speakers and programs. 

Lest it sound as though club members only work, wonderful trips have been taken to fascinating places, such as the Philadelphia Flower Show, Charleston SC, Mt. Goliath, Santa Fe NM twice, the Seed Bank at CSU in Fort Collins, Sand Dunes National Monument and Rocky Mountain National Park; this March, a group drove to Nebraska to view the sandhill cranes on their migration north.

Summarized by Sheilagh Hudon, 2019