Member clubs of The Garden Club of America share an overarching purpose – “to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening.” Of course, the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club’s horticulture, conservation, and civic planting projects all go to this purpose. But the knowledge and love of gardening is also nourished by an appreciation of the history and design of gardens.
In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the GCA took a step of national significance to advance the study of garden history and design. In 1992, the GCA donated its slide library of Notable American Parks and Gardens to the Smithsonian Institution. The GCA collection, which illustrates the work of dozens of the country’s great landscape architects, is enormous in its scope – nearly 3,500 hand-colored glass lantern slides from the 1920s and 1930s, and some 37,000 35mm slides of gardens that date from colonial times to the present.
The GCA collection became the core of a new Smithsonian collection named the Archives of American Gardens.
Over the past 20-plus years, the AAG collection has expanded to over 7,500 gardens throughout country. Images in the collection, which runs from the 1870s to the present, include features such as garden furniture and ornamentation, fountains, sculptures, fences and gates, parterres, and garden structures, among others. Design styles represented range from large estates to small herb and rose gardens, cottage and patio gardens, and urban parks. In addition to garden images, the collection includes architectural drawings, plans, and business papers.
Since making its founding donation, the GCA has supported the AAG with ongoing research and development. Further, GCA member clubs continue to expand the collection by photographing and documenting contemporary gardens. As stated in the AAG’s mission, these efforts:
“…make available for research use unique, high quality images of and documentation relating to a wide variety of cultivated gardens throughout the United States that are not documented elsewhere since historic, designed and cultural landscapes are subject to change, loss and destruction.”
As a club with a long history, the Cambridge Plant & Garden Club has enthusiastically joined the GCA effort to expand the collection. Over the past four years, the club’s Garden History and Design Committee has photographed and documented three private Cambridge gardens to the Smithsonian’s meticulous standards; all have been accepted for the Archive. Three more gardens, including a CitySprouts school garden, are currently being documented by the club. CP&GC is proud this work – a contribution to the Smithsonian as well as to our own community.
Over 24,000 photographs from the AAG have been digitized and are publicly available through the Smithsonian’s online catalog. A guide to the Archives is available here.
CP&GC’s own archives reside at the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in the United States. www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library