Garden History & Design

The Garden History and Design Committee wants to encourage members to develop an appreciation of America’s gardens and works closely with the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens to document cultivated gardens throughout the country. Gardens represent a part of the American Experience, highlighting the region, culture history and aesthetic that influences them. The major goals of this committee is to 1) encourage members to document either their own gardens or gardens in their community as documenting gardens provides an important piece of the contextual puzzle of social change, traditions and trends over time; 2) collaborate with other committees to offer creative joint programs that further the understanding of garden history and design and; 3) continue to add to the GCA collection at the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Garden (AAG) by researching, documenting and photographing American Gardens.


In 1914, the GCA formed the Historic Gardens Committee. After the end of WWI, the era of the great garden estates faded and the concept of a fulltime gardener was quickly disappearing. Also, the passage of national income tax laws in 1916 might have affected the ability to afford good garden maintenance for most people.

During this period, the GCA was one of the prime sponsors of early garden photography. From 1920-1935, over 2000 glass lantern slides of gardens were commissioned. Glass lantern slides were used by the magic lantern, an early type of image projector employing pictures, painted, printed or produced photographically on transparent plates (usually made of glass), one or more lenses, and a light source. These magic lanterns were used both for educational and entertainment purposes until the mid-20thcentury, when it was superseded by a compact version that could hold many 35mmphotographic slides: the slide projector.

In 1964 Harriet J. Phelps discovered lots of early 20thCentury slides at the GCA headquarters which prompted the revival of creating archives and continuing to photograph gardens. A new GCA committee was formed called the new Slide Library of Notable American Parks and Gardens. This committee then ambitiously began collecting additional older glass lantern slide images and photography in 35mm slide format of the best and most important gardens and public parks in America. The end result of these years of accumulating images of the best gardens in America was the subsequent gift in 1987 of 3,000 glass lantern slides and over 22,000 35mm slides to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Gardens. (Originally this collection was intended for Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and collection in Washington DC but the Smithsonian intervened and requested that the GCA let the Smithsonian archive the collection and share it with the public.)

In 1992 the GCA Collection officially became part of the Horticulture Services Division of the Smithsonian institution’s Archives of American Gardens. This gift was celebrated during the GCA’s 75thAnniversary (1913-1988).  In the past 26 years, at the end of 2018, the GCA has documented 4,750 gardens consisting of 37,000 35mm slides and over 3,000 glass lantern slides.

How to find a garden on line that is documented at the AAG/Smithsonian

1. Garden Name or AAG Reference number

Go to the Smithsonian website which is also on the AAG section of our Garden History and Design landing page:

All recent submissions described in SOVA (the research engine at the Smithsonian) include the name of the garden club that facilitated the submission. For Example, here is the entry in SOVA for the Kathie Moore Gardens with credit to the New Canaan Garden Club:

You must have the name of the garden or the AAG# (the receiving number that is attached to the garden when it is received by the Smithsonian). This number is forwarded to the club chairman by the zone II rep when the Smithsonian receives the documentation.  For example, the Kathie Moore Garden in New Canaan has a receiving number of CT757. You can conduct a search on Kathie Moore Gardens or CT757 to locate the garden entry in SOVA.

Using quotes around the name of the garden may also help you to be more precise, especially if you have a title that is not unique.

2. Recent Acquisitions

There is also the recent acquisitions tab in the AAG section on our landing page:

Documenting a Garden

The new version of how to document a garden is located on the GH&D landing page on the far right under Latest News and the link is:

This new version was revised over the summer and simplifies the process under the title “The five steps to documenting a garden.” There are various forms and releases that are required before a garden can be accepted and that link is:
Please note that there is a new way to document your garden-by drone. The drone is being introduced in response to clubs growing interest in the use of drones to capture garden images, while still meeting the Smithsonian’s digital image standards for long-term preservation and museum use.

Kathie Moore's Gardens

The most recent committee submission was a documentation of Kathie Moore's Gardens which has since been formally approved for acquisition by the AAG. Kathie has been a passionate gardener since inheriting her 1940’s brick Georgian style house with 8.3 acres 45 years ago. She planned the gardens to be 360' around the house, so they are not only beautiful outside but also are beautiful from the inside. There is a Gazebo Garden, Front Entrance Garden, a 160' Wall Garden, a Swimming Pool Garden and an Open Terrace Garden.

Kathie loves touches of 'whimsy' on the property. Along with her husband, George, they collected many rabbit statues, dog statues, large French ceramic frogs, a Gorilla statue (sculpted by Carl Akeley), a nude statue of a lady (sculpted by Enrique Monjo), birdcages, birdhouses, reflecting mirrors, urns and other special containers.

Kathie Moore Gardens Comprehensive Garden Description

Photographs of Kathie Moore's Garden

The Smithsonian's AAG added the Sun House (formerly Wright Garden) in 2013 to their GCA Collection. Located on 1.7 acres in New Canaan, this historic property with its Greek Revival style house was built for John and Harriet Ryder in 1842-1845. The Deering family, local farmers, added a barn and several outbuildings. In 1919, Richardson Wright, founder and editor of 'House and Garden' magazine began to chronicle the house and garden. The gardens were revitalized by the current owner who renovated the hardscape and restored some of the older gardens.

Sun House House and Gardens