History of Kalamazoo Garden Council
By Sue Corra
By the 1940s, many groups of enthusiastic gardeners, horticulturists, flower arrangers and friends had formed various garden clubs around the Greater Kalamazoo area. In 1946, ten of these clubs organized themselves into the Kalamazoo Garden Council. The charter clubs were:
- AAUW Garden Club
- Club of Little Gardens
- Club of Friendly Gardens
- Club of Sunny Gardens
- Dirt Daubers
- Hardy Perennial Gardeners
- LLA Garden Club
- Parchment Garden Club
- Parkwood Garden Club
- Kalamazoo Garden Club
Less than ten years later, the number had swelled from 10 to 17 clubs.
The main purpose of forming the Kalamazoo Garden Council was to put on an annual flower show. The first meeting was held on February 27, 1946. Those present were City Parks’ Commissioner Leroy Gilbert, an accredited flower show judge, Mrs. Frank Kautenberg, Charles Finley, representatives from nine garden clubs, and KGC President, Mrs. C.G. Wirick.
Handwritten minutes, probably by Mrs. Wirick, were found in the earliest KGC scrapbook which read, “A week ago tonight a few of us met here to see what the possibilities might be for having a community flower show for this and coming years. It is the hope of this group to work toward the building and maintaining of a Kalamazoo garden center through the flower shows and by bringing nationally known speakers to our community. The group decided that with such a large undertaking all horticultural minded people in Kalamazoo should be asked to participate. In order to do this, I will now entertain a motion for a temporary chairman for this meeting.”
Apparently this motion was carried and Kalamazoo Garden Council did indeed hold a flower show in 1946. ( There is some question as to whether this was the first show – the Kalamazoo Gazette bills the 1946 show as the 6th annual flower show.) The financial report from that show, which was held at the Armory on Water Street, shows that from admissions, merchant and food booths the total income was $626.99, expenses were $169.25, leaving a profit of $457.74.
Mrs. Wirick agreed to assume the presidency of Kalamazoo Garden Council, whose goals would be to promote annual flower shows, improve local landscaping, and encourage the studies related to horticulture and flower arranging. Other citizens and garden club members became involved and the membership grew steadily during the following years, until the organization became strong and other fields were included in the program.
Through the cooperation of the Kalamazoo City Parks Department and City Commission, KGC was offered the use of a cottage at 616 Locust Street, which was formerly owned by Miss Blanche Babcock, aunt of Mrs. Donald Gilmore and Mrs. Howard Dalton, who after her death in 1946, passed the cottage on to the City of Kalamazoo and in 1952, it was arranged for KGC to take possession of the residence for their use exclusively for meetings and events. A large portion of the gardening books currently in the KGC library were Miss Babcock’s books, thereby the name Blanche Babcock library is most appropriate for the library, currently housed at the present Kalamazoo Garden Council House.
The first home of Kalamazoo Garden Council was named “Lilac Cottage”, corresponding with the city’s declaration that Kalamazoo’s official flower was to be the lilac, and also that there were many of these plants surrounding the house. During the first years of the existence of KGC, many lilac bushes were given and planted in various locations around the city, including Crane Park, Crosstown Parkway, and Riverside Drive. Many of them still bloom every spring.
Plans for annual flower shows continued to be the aim of Kalamazoo Garden Council, and out of state instructors were brought in to hold classes in many areas of expertise, including flower arranging and horticultural programs. Anyone completing the five-course study successfully, became an accredited judge.
Arbor Day programs were planned and the value of trees was emphasized. Many varieties were planted in the area including Crosstown Pkwy, Riverview Dr., Mr. Olivet Rd., the Nature Center, the Delano Homestead and in Bronson Park, after the tornado damage.
Home and garden tours were planned, in order to raise funds for the landscaping around Interfaith Chapel at the State Hospital and the Five Senses Garden at the Kennedy Center on Oakland Dr.
The Annual KGC Greens Sale, an important fundraiser for Kalamazoo Garden Council, was begun in November of 1954 and has grown and continued as an annual event for the Greater Kalamazoo Community. The proceeds of this fundraiser support the operation of KGC and its goals.
In 1971, KGC had outgrown Lilac Cottage and again, the City of Kalamazoo offered the use of a larger “home” for KGC activities. The former home of Morris Markin, founder of Checker Motors, located at 5333 N. Westnedge, had been acquired by the city upon his death in 1970, along with 70 acres of land. The land has been developed as what is known now as Markin Park and Kalamazoo Garden Council rents the beautiful, white frame, country house for a nominal fee. It continues to be the hub of KGC meetings and projects.