On May 28, 1915, neighbors of Mrs. Anne Higginson Spicer received post cards inviting them to her home “for a cup of tea and to form a garden club.” Neighbors who responded to the invitation and thus became charter members of the first garden club in Kenilworth were: Mrs.C.K. Blackwood, Mrs.Charles R. Bull, Mrs. William B. Fitch, Mrs. Edward D. Parmalee, Mrs. Edward J. Phelps, Mrs. James H. Prentiss, Mrs. Grant Ridgway, Mrs. Arthur W. Ruf, Mrs. Victor C. Sanborn, Mrs. V.K. Spicer, Mrs. Emanuel F. Snydacke, and Mrs. Rufus B. Stolp.
According to the original rules, “Any member not brave enough to wheel a barrow of manure down Kenilworth Avenue, if need be, was not worthy of membership.” In addition, discussion of “dress, disease, ... and children” was strictly taboo. Known as dirt gardeners, they cultivated, weeded, transplanted, and raised their own plants.
In 1923 KGC was invited to join The Garden Club of America, and a whole new chapter began with a heightened awareness of state and national issues concerning conservation and beautification.
Outreach programs have been an important component of KGC. During the forties and fifties, the Club distributed plants and bouquets to area hospitals and developed a special interest in Onward Neighborhood House. From 1941 to 1945 the Club’s activities centered almost entirely around war projects. In more recent years, members visited the Good News Life Center to help residents create seasonal flower arrangements, contributed to a Shady Sitting Garden for Pilsen Neighbors, and supported a garden and program for children and families at the Family Focus “Our Place Center” in Evanston. During the holiday season, members currently make small bedside bouquets for patients at local hospices, hospitals or retirement homes. The committee also helps to educate the Kenilworth Girl Scouts about flower arranging and horticulture. The girls earn their Plant Life Badge with the assistance of KGC members.
In the late fifties KGC worked to raise funds for the establishment of The Chicago Botanic Garden. In 1974 the Club received the GCA Founders Fund Award for the Garden for the Disabled, now the Buehler Enabling Garden at The Chicago Botanic Garden. In 2001, KGC voted to establish The Kenilworth Garden Club Endowment Fund for the Buehler Enabling Garden by making an initial contribution of $5,000 with the goal of reaching $25,000 within five years. This goal has been reached, and the endowment fund continues to grow through the generosity of the membership. We continue to support this garden.
Over the years KGC has made notable contributions to Mahoney Park, the Magnolia Garden, the Charles A. Ware Memorial Garden in Kenilworth, the Inner Court Garden of the Art Institute in Chicago, and the Garden Under the Arches, The Skokie School South Courtyard and civic gardens in Winnetka. KGC also has participated in the Great Perennial Divide, a collaborative effort to provide plants to city gardens
Major benefits have always been a part of KGC: English Garden Fair in 1930, Holiday Walk in 1952, Gaiete Parisienne in 1958, and Mrs. Gardener Takes a Trip in 1963. More recently KGC held Christmas Medley in 1991, How Does Your Garden Grow in 1995, Poetic Gardens in 1999, Harvest Moon in 2003, and An Evening by the Lake in 2006.
Spring lecture luncheons feature nationally recognized speakers such as The Metropolitan Museum’s Chris Giftos, Rancho La Puerta’s Chef Bill Waverin, and Cleveland florist Don Vanderbrook. London florist Kenneth Turner, Reverend William McMillan from Dublin, Ireland, Sybil Brooke Sylvester of Birmingham, Alabama, and James Farmer, a Southern Living Editor, and Francis Schultz have also been featured.
KGC participates in Show of Summer at the Chicago Botanic Garden with the five other local GCA clubs. This nationally recognized flower arranging, horticultural, photography and educational exhibition is now held every third year. In 2004, KGC was the host club and sponsored the event, “H 2 O”. KGC will be the host club again in 2023.
KGC continues to develop projects in the Chicago area. Major benefit funds have been appropriated to Street Scapes in Winnetka, Openlands in Chicago, and the Great Basin Water Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
In 2012 the club initiated a new relationship with the Midwest Hospice & Palliative CareCenter (now called JourneyCare), donating $25,000, which was matched, to finish a flower repurposing room, named in honor of the Kenilworth Garden Club. We have also funded a sensory garden for the McAuley Residence of Misericordia.
We are restoring the Charles A. Ware Memorial Garden in Kenilworth to its original plan which included native trees, shrubs, and wild flowers. Members still actively maintain the Magnolia and Ware gardens. After one hundred years, the members of the Kenilworth Garden Club are still digging in the dirt!