By Melissa O’Brien
Started in 1939, Our Garden Club of Philadelphia and Vicinity (OGCPV) has been brightening lives and facilitating friendships for 83 years. As one of the oldest continuously active Black garden clubs in the country, OGCPV’s legacy continues to blossom decades after it began during segregation when Black people weren’t allowed to join white garden clubs.
Today, the club includes about 28 women who come together to learn about and promote all kinds of gardening. Each year, members compete in the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show as exhibitors, putting their floral arranging and horticulture skills on display. Here, OGCPV President Wilhelmina Jackson and three longtime members, Cynthia Wright, Shirley Daly, and Dr. Wilfreta Baugh share thoughts on their love of gardening, how the industry has evolved over the years, and the camaraderie that comes from being a part of something bigger.
Wilhelmina: My gardening journey began when I was a young child. My father was raised on a working farm outside of Lynchburg, Virginia. Summer visits to my grandparents included harvesting vegetables and fruits and canning or freezing them for the winter months. At that time, it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my free time; however, now I can see how it influenced me to find joy in gardening and nature and eating fresh organic foods.
Cynthia: I have always loved to grow plants. My mother, aunts, and my grandmother had houseplants. It all started for me there. I was a child growing up in a row home in Germantown, Philadelphia with a tiny concrete backyard. On the front, there was a strip of dirt at the curb. I planted every seed I could find and made a Popsicle stick fence to protect it from people entering and exiting their cars. Not many things grew, but I tried. My mother made a small brick enclosure in the backyard where I was able to grow watermelon plants (no fruits), Morning Glories, and green beans from the raw beans we ate. I was very happy, and that love of growing plants has continued through this day.
Shirley: My gardening journey started when I came to Philadelphia in 1976. Having a backyard where I could grow vegetables and flowers stimulated my interest in growing plants. Starting plants from seeds is my greatest joy.
Wilfreta: I learned how to garden from my mother. Growing up in Portsmouth, VA, as a family of seven children and my parents, we grew most of our vegetables and shared all with our neighbors. My mother grew plants from many areas we visited across the country where she made it a habit to collect specimens.
Wilhelmina: I joined OGCPV in 2013 after I retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry. OGCPV member Wilfreta Baugh spoke highly of the club and its activities so she was instrumental in my joining. I wanted to be involved in learning more about floral design and gardening. Floral design is a creative outlet related to my interest in the visual arts such as painting and printmaking.
Cynthia: I joined Our Garden Club of Philadelphia & Vicinity around 1999. I was invited by a coworker who was a member, and whose sister was President at the time.
Shirley: I joined OGCPV in 2015. A close relative invited me to join, and I thought this would give me an opportunity to learn more about gardening.
Wilfreta: I joined OGCPV in 1972.
Wilhelmina: OGCPV has impacted my life by giving me the opportunity to meet many new people who have similar interests. It has opened the pathway for me to exhibit in the PHS Flower Show in artistic design and horticulture, and to assume leadership roles in the club. I have served terms as Corresponding Secretary, Vice President, and am currently ending my 2-year term as Club President.
Cynthia: The positive impact of the Club has been the mutual sharing about plants and floral design, the joy and camaraderie of like-spirited and plant-minded individuals, and lasting friendships.
Shirley: Joining the club exposed me to a wider world of plants and the joy of competition.
Wilfreta: OGCPV has been a great positive influence in my life by helping me to have incredible, nonprofessional career-related activities, experiences where I’ve met and engaged with many on a separate level, and has introduced me to interesting people from all walks of life and from different areas of the country.
Wilhelmina: I have exhibited with my husband, Jarrett, in the competitive artistic design area each year since 2014 except for 2021 due to the pandemic. We’ve created ribbon-winning designs. Exhibiting together has been a great experience where we work together and build on each of our strengths. There are challenges; however, it always ends well with a creation, which we feel good about. Individually I’ve entered in pressed flowers and botanical jewelry. Being involved in the show is a wonderful experience. New acquaintances are made with people you look forward to seeing each year -- and it forces me to step outside of my comfort zone and learn new techniques and approaches to design.
Cynthia: I have been an exhibitor of horticulture at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show for about 25 years. It has been a very rewarding experience, joining with others who are passionate about their plants and the love of growing them well. It is gratifying just to participate in the Show, and so satisfying when your hard work and effort are recognized as special when a ribbon is awarded. This year, I was awarded ribbons for each of my entries, and I am very pleased!
Shirley: Yes, I have exhibited in the PHS Flower Show and found it to be a very rewarding experience. I was excited and happy to see my exhibit being enjoyed by so many people. I learned a lot about what to do and how to make a winner.
Wilfreta: Yes, I’ve exhibited in the PHS Flower Show every year since 1974 until 4 years ago when I became vice chair of the Competitive Classes team for two years then chair of the same group for two years. I’m looking forward to continuing to exhibit again.
Cynthia: The gardening industry was very agricultural in its focus for many years. As urban spaces have grown, there has been a shift to urban horticulture and garden design. For years, and especially in the past few years, an increase in beautifying indoor living spaces has inspired more interest and knowledge of tropical and succulent gardening.
Perhaps the industry is more inclusive towards women, although, through the years, women of means have had more access to gardening organizations. People of Color
Shirley: I feel the competitive side of the gardening industry is wide open for women, but the executive side is a little slow in opening up more for women. An effort must be made to actively seek out interested women through advertising.
Wilfreta: Yes, it has changed. Women were always an integral part of many areas of the industry and the multiple flower shows in which I exhibited. More specifically and significantly, POC have been more welcomed and respected. There is a significant decrease in the micro and macro aggressions that were openly expressed.
Wilhelmina: Joining a garden club is a great opportunity to share time and experiences with people who have some of the same interests and passions. Also, a club provides a perfect opportunity for learning and development. I would recommend joining a garden club to anyone who is serious about gardening and floral design.
Cynthia: The benefit of joining a garden club is the sharing of knowledge, experience, ideas, passion, and fellowship around a common interest.
Shirley: The benefits include enjoyment, a sense of pride, and accomplishment. Joining a club gives one an opportunity to improve and beautify their landscape and increase their knowledge about the benefit of plants for the environment and health.
Wilfreta: It can have a calming impact on one’s mood and existence.