• David A.F. Sweet

Flower Power: At 110, the Lake Forest Garden Club Continues to Flourish

By David A. F. Sweet As the world reeled from the COVID pandemic in the fall of 2020, members of the Lake Forest Garden Club foraged their own gardens and the sides of roads to gather large arrangements of flowers. They placed these huge displays in front of the police and fire stations in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, along with Lake Forest Hospital, to thank those battling the deadly coronavirus. “To me, that embodied the spirit of our members and this club,” said Lake Forest Garden Club President Alicia Crawford.

Lake Forest Garden Club members gave the City of Lake Forest a $110,000 grant to decrease contamination during recycling. Celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, the Lake Forest Garden Club continues to flourish. Far from the stereotype of elderly ladies sitting in their grand estates chatting about their roses, the club’s all-volunteer force is engaged with many projects in Lake Forest. In fact, the number of jobs around town over the decades is staggering. From a redesigned landscape in Market Square in the 1990s to the multi-year renovation of Forest Park above the lakefront earlier this century, there are few parts of the natural terrain members of the Lake Forest Garden Club have not touched. One project that has spanned two years is called Rethink Recycling. The garden club gave the City of Lake Forest a $110,000 grant to help residents decrease contamination when recycling. Going from 25 percent contamination to 10 percent would save the city $50,000 annually. “Many communities have stopped recycling altogether,” noted Lake Forest Garden Club member Kitty Lansing. “We thought it was important to help strengthen Lake Forest's sustainable footprint by reducing waste.”

These days, the club – which is featured on the 2022-23 vehicle sticker for Lake Forest -- gives more money to fewer, more targeted projects compared to the past. Even non-profits outside of town enjoy donations, from the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves to Lake Bluff Open Lands. “The organization has a long history of making investments to enhance the local community and steward our natural resources,” said Lake Forest Garden Club member Miah Armour.

The garden club raises money primarily from its House & Garden Walk, which will take place from June 15-16 this year and is named Inside & Out. The event is a big production at members’ homes (four this year) that was halted in 2020/2021 because of the pandemic. About 1,000 people usually show up. The last one raised $250,000 for the club, through ticket sales and a boutique, along with donations and underwriting support. “The pandemic really reaffirmed the importance of the relationship between our own indoor and outdoor spaces at home,” said Meredith Lytle, co-chair of this year’s event with Armour. “We're keen to get people together again in person and showcase sustainability efforts at home.”

For the first time this year, members’ wares -- from pottery to beekeepers’ honey -- will be showcased at the boutique As well, each home will display information – such as a gardening tip – to educate visitors about sustainability and conservation. On the evening before the Inside & Out House & Garden Walk opens, well-known English garden designer and founder of the London College of Garden Design Andrew Wilson will headline a panel discussion with Lake Forest-based designer Craig Bergmann. Also that day, an event called Conversations in the Garden will take place at the Craig Bergmann Landscape Design Studio. “We expect Conversations in the Garden to be a lively conversation about trends, twists and turns in landscape design, what is popping up across the pond in Great Britain and Europe relative to what's showing in the U.S.,” Lytle said.


According to Planting with Purpose: A History of the Lake Forest Garden Club, the McBirney house, featuring a garden planted by Rose Standish Nichols, hosted the club’s first meetings in the summer of 1912. Famous landscape designer Jens Jensen offered his support to the new enterprise, which drew 35 women that first year. One of its earliest projects involved creating Triangle Park, including putting a water fountain within a boulder. The women helped found the Garden Club of America in 1913. Six years later, the House & Garden Walk was born. "It is an honor to carry forward the club's House & Garden Walk tradition,” Armour said. “We're delighted to showcase modern living and gracious gardens at our own members’ beautiful properties."

Tickets to the 2022 House & Garden Walk will be on sale later in April. Information will be available in mid-April at www.lakeforestgc.org. The Lake Forest Garden Club is featured on the City’s 2022-2023 vehicle sticker. Purchase your sticker starting the week of March 21 at cityoflakeforest.com/VehicleSticker.