Written by Mary Griffin
It was a pleasure and honor for me to represent our garden club at the GCA 2012 Horticulture Conference October 22 through 24 in Austin, Texas. It was announced this year that the original sponsor of the conference was Luise Straus of the Baltimore area. She did this to honor her great friend and mentor, Shirley Meniece. Speaking with Luise ,I learned that she and Shirley had met when they both were GCA members in Chicago, and that Shirley had taught her gardening with great patience and kindness. She had been an inspirational figure in Luise’s life! Later Luise moved to the east coast and Shirley to Pebble Beach (because her husband loved to play golf). The conference was founded by Luise and others because they felt there was a need to share horticulture practices throughout the regional clubs. These women felt that Shirley Meniece represented the ideals this conference should strive for and should be named in her honor.
The conference was organized by the Dallas and San Antonio clubs (Austin has no GCA chapter). Shirley Meniece, who is 89 years old, was in attendance along with two past GCA presidents and almost 120 delegates, representing clubs throughout the USA.
The night before the conference began there was a riverboat dinner cruise on Lake Austin. It was a chance to meet other delegates, see the city of Austin from the water, and sample southwestern tacos and beans.
The theme of this year’s conference was sustainable landscapes with an emphasis on Texas landscapes, geology and environmental issues. Ladybird Wildflower Center hosted our first day of official programs. This is a 279 acre public garden dedicated to increasing the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes. It was founded 30 years ago by Mrs. Johnson (who was 70 years old at the time) and actress Helen Hayes. After opening remarks we had guided tours through the gardens and arboretum followed by a box lunch. We then had a presentation by Robert Hammond about the story behind the NYC Highline (a sustainable garden). Breakout sessions on urban ecology, native lawns, and gardening with native plants followed.
The afternoon ended with a presentation by the wildflower center horticulturalist listing and describing Texas native plant “all-stars”. There was also an introduction to the wonderful Ladybird Wildlife Center website for native plant identification (www. wildflower.org). This web site is a useful tool for gardeners of all regions and is full of much good plant information and many pictures. That evening there was a dinner at the Hyatt hotel and a presentation by noted horticulturalist Greg Grant on “Gardening for Love” – also the title of a book he wrote.
The second day of the conference we left on early morning buses to head for “Old Glory Ranch”—a convention\wedding facility located in the Texas Hill Country. After opening remarks we broke into meetings by zones where we discussed general garden club business. In Zone 2 we talked about the centennial tree project (see GCA website), The Real Dirt (a horticulture website full of wonderful information) and the value of seed banking.
Lunch followed and then we heard a wonderful presentation on water harvesting on west texas ranch land and more about seed banking. The wild fires that raged through west texas last summer were so hot that both the seeds and the soil became sterilized in many regions hit by the fires. This is a case where banked seeds are being used to repopulate the cedar and cypress communities on this burnt land. This was followed by a second breakout session (ferns, roses, cactus) and then a lecture on growing roses organically.
With the days activities complete we bussed to Salt Lick, a famous texas barbecue establishment, for a delicious dinner of ribs, brisket and beans. After dinner the director of Texas Parks and Wildlife spoke to us about the special challenges of land preservation in a state where very little land is held in trust. The ability to work with and gain the cooperation of private land owners is essential. We got back to our hotel at 10:30 pm tired but happy delegates!
The third and last day of the GCA convention began in the Hyatt Ballroom where we heard two speaker presentations. The first was about the conserving and harvesting of water in texas landscape architecture design. We saw wonderful pictures of gardens where this result had been achieved. The second speaker talked about the personnel pleasures of gardening. He described the garden as a “portal” into somewhere “beyond us” and also as an expression of gratitude for life itself! The garden binds us to a place, demands our care, and connects us to the earth! We ended the conference on a note of grace – our love of plants and nature binding us all together!
Many of the delegates left at this point to catch flights home. Some of us however were fortunate to stay the afternoon and visit some wonderful Austin private gardens. Gardens had been chosen based on the use of native plants, water harvesting features, and the celebration of the native Texas landscape. These gardens made a wonderful conclusion to our conference theme of sustainability in the landscape.
In conclusion I would like to say again how privileged I felt to participate in this conference. GCA is an amazing organization and the women in horticulture are truly impressive! It was a wonderful three days of gardeners enjoying each others company and the wonderful natural world we live in and celebrate in our gardens everyday!