Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs, Inc.: To build up and beautify local communities

Stretching the Point

PCGC members, seated, left to right: Shirley Rucker, newsletter editor; Laura Brown, president; Linda Marushi, parliamentarian. Standing: Gayle Phillips, first vice president; Wanda Alvis, membership chair; Kay Hughes, treasurer and beautification chair; Kim Scholer, third vice president; Mariann Edwards, hospitality chair; Lu Harding, corresponding secretary. Not pictured: Amy Oliver, second vice president; Mary-Elizabeth Cotton, recording secretary; Betty Joy, conservation chair; Melinda Fitzgerald, publicity; Louise Wylie, scholarship chair. (Photo by Anna Dorl)

Since 1954, the Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs, Inc.(PCGC) has stood as a pillar of aesthetic appreciation and inspired action within the community. Originally founded by Margaret L. Alexander, the Council continues to introduce the Virginia Peninsula to all things green and garden-related through its wide range of educational and recreational endeavors. The organization’s common goals are “to beautify local communities, to encourage the knowledge and love of gardening and to promote civic and environmental responsibility.”

Laura Brown is currently president of PCGC. Brown says, “I started getting involved and meeting these women, and they said, ‘Why don’t you join the beautification committee?’ I just kind of fell in love with these [people].”

Brown first became involved with the Huntington Garden Club in 2013, and her initial civic beautification project was the landscaping surrounding Warwick High School. Huntington Garden Club asked her to serve as its PCGC representative, and she served on the civic beautification committee from 2015 to 2017. She was the Council’s recording secretary from 2017 through this year, also serving as its president. Outside of PCGC, Brown is a music cataloging librarian at Old Dominion University. 

The Council comprises 17 garden clubs throughout the Virginia Peninsula and a representative from each club is part of the PCGC, attending meetings during the year. The number of members from club-to-club ranges in size, varying between five to 47. Straw Hat members, or “Straw Hatters,” are either former members or interested parties who don’t belong to a particular club and are welcome to still participate in PCGC. A Council-wide newsletter, Scions and Seedlings, is published bi-monthly, and an annual yearbook is distributed to members.

As a volunteer organization, the Council offers the opportunity for engagement in a wide range of activities related to gardening. Members often come together to celebrate Historic Garden Week in Virginia, observed in April across the Commonwealth. Each club takes charge of a variety of community service projects. The Council’s civic beautification committee heads a particular project every two years, rotating through different locations within the Peninsula area. For 2021 through 2023, the current project consists of a donation to the Newport News Green Foundation, Inc. directed to the Mayer and Dorene Sarfan Food Forest at Chestnut. Located in Newport News, this effort will help to tackle food scarcity within the forest’s surrounding spaces and illuminate the impact of a collective space intended to benefit the Earth and its people. 

Each year, the Council presents two fall and three spring programs, which are open to the public. Every two years, one spring program in May is reserved for the officers’ installation luncheon. “When we don’t have that, we just put another program in its place,” Brown says. Collective board meetings are held every other month, with each specific garden club having its own meetings across the calendar.

Events are held to raise money for the Council’s annual scholarship, which started decades ago, beginning with the sale of an original meeting building. Either one or two full-time Virginia Tech students within the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences are presented with a collective $2,500. If given to one student, the scholarship is called the Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs, Inc. Scholarship, and if two students are the recipients, they are named the PCGC, Inc. Woodruff Hiden Hussy Memorial Scholarship and the PCGC, Inc. Jane Henley and Virginia Kostyal Scholarship.

“We see the scholarships as part of our mission,” says Louise Wylie, scholarship fund chair and a member of James River Garden Club. Wylie has been a part of the Council for more than a decade and served as former treasurer. “We want to support students who are in a four-year degree program related to horticulture,” she adds.

The Council’s September program featured an “Outdoor Ethics” presentation by David Lauthers, master naturalist with Leave No Trace, along with a floral raffle and a general council meeting. The November 11 meeting will feature “Arrangements for the Holidays” with Frances Thrash, artistic floral judge and designer. Attendees will learn how to create festive wreath arrangements for the holiday season.

“The fellowship is my favorite aspect of PCGC,” says Brown. “With so many neighborhood garden clubs belonging to PCGC, it’s fun to put a face and a personality to these neighborhoods. I find it heartwarming to know tucked inside these neighborhoods, there is a garden club. What a delightful opportunity to meet fellow gardeners, share gardening tips, ideas and recipes. I believe [it] is the heart of any organization — and gardeners have big hearts.” 

Peninsula Council of Garden Clubs
Contact: Laura Brown, president
Phone: 757-218-8423

About Anna Dorl 33 Articles
Anna Dorl grew up all over the United States as a military brat, and she now calls Virginia home. She is a graduate of Christopher Newport University with a degree in communication studies, with minors in writing and film studies. Since graduation, she’s worked in journalism and education. When she’s not writing, Anna can be found hanging out with her dog, Stella, and watching spooky movies.