Accolades nearly outnumbered raindrops Sunday afternoon at the centennial celebration of the Dolley Madison Garden Club at Taylor Park in downtown Orange.
Against a backdrop of blooming azaleas, stunning greenery and a newly unveiled lotus fountain, nearly 200 club members, supporters and local, state and federal dignitaries gathered to pay tribute to the club’s 100 years of conservation, advocacy and community service.
And the ladies who annually organize and host Historic Garden Week tours and various other events throughout the year delivered once again with another flawless performance—regardless of, in spite of or even in accordance with the elements.
They garden. They value rain and they certainly don’t let it ruin their parade, so to speak. Maybe it was somehow fitting that the sculpture in the Taylor Park fountain was created by the talented Adam and Kathryn Krehbiel of … wait for it … Raindrops in Virginia of Gordonsville. This club knows how to throw a party.
“We knew we wouldn’t have a problem getting a crowd today because most of the people here are either politicians or gardeners and we make our own sunshine,” said Gail Babnew, a former president of the club.
As it turned out, no sunshine was needed. The admiration and adulation emanating from beneath the tent in Taylor Park was sufficient to brighten an otherwise dreary spring afternoon.
The weather wasn’t a factor, really. An A-list line-up of speakers included U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Seventh District Congressional Rep. Abigail Spanberger, State Sen. Bryce Reeves, Del. Nick Freitas, Garden Club of America President Dede Petri and Garden Club of Virginia President Jean Gilpin, among others.
Each took the opportunity to praise the venerable “Dolleys” for their legacy and commitment to the community, most readily visible at Taylor Park.
Bequeathed by DMGC member emerita Helen Marie Taylor and her husband Jack in the 1970s, the park is archived as a public garden by the Smithsonian Institute.
“At the Smithsonian, we tend to collect a little bit of everything, but I think our most important collection is the archives of American gardens,” said Cynthia Brown, Smithsonian Gardens’ Manager of Collections and Education. “Our job is to show the importance of American gardens—politically, culturally—and the story of all Americans so we can share it with the rest of America. Every garden has a story to share and look how much you all have shared in the story of this garden.”
And now, that garden includes a new lotus flower fountain in honor of the club’s centennial.
“We batted around a number of ideas for the centennial and Taylor Park is our biggest project,” said club member Suzanne Aiello. “I thought about the idea of a sculpture and Ada [Harvey, centennial committee chair] had the idea of a lotus flower. Gale Martin [club publicity] said we should talk to the Krehbiels at Raindrops and that they might be able to do something for us. We talked with Adam and in five minutes he had us a sketch on the back of an envelope with the flowers, the pods, the leaves and it was great. I think it worked out beautifully. It was a great collaboration.”
“Today we are celebrating our club’s 100th anniversary by presenting this fountain as our gift to Orange and Orange County,” Harvey added. “We thank Adam and Kathryn Krehbiel for enthusiastically embracing this project and putting all of themselves into the production of this wonderful fountain. Our garden club and the community are grateful for this wonderful sculpture.”
Even before the fountain officially turned on, water dripped off the myriad petals, leaves and pods, suggesting to those assembled what was to come.
“Taylor Park was the vision of DMGC members Helen Marie Taylor and Dottie Williams whose masterful mix of charm and ability together drew local officials and business leaders to commit land, labor and skill,” Brown explained. “This park was conceived as a place for local citizens to gather together for a concert or event, a lovely shady spot for local merchants to have a place to sit and have a bite to eat and rest and for visitors to our community to enjoy the flowers and learn a little about horticulture and nature. This park truly is a community project with contributions coming from every factor of the Orange community.”
“Community” was a key theme among other speakers as well.
State Sen. Bryce Reeves thanked the club for what it’s doing, what it’s done and what it will do for the community.
“It’s more than gardens,” he said. “We all know that. It’s about building community. It’s about bringing people together. I couldn’t help but sit here and listen to people talk and hear the rain hitting the tent and look at the fountain and wonder how many people have come into this area carrying the burdens of the world on their shoulders and could get a little bit of peace, and how you changed their life through your garden.”
Garden Club of America President Dede Petri said garden clubs are environmentalists, historic preservationists, floral designers, civic activists and informed volunteers. Garden clubs are about engaging with nature at a time when there is an epic dissociation with nature. Garden clubs are about conservation, engaging the past and investing in the future and about the power of volunteers and private responses to civic and public challenges.
“Garden clubs are about uniting people across time and through families and cultures,” she said. “The Dolley Madison Garden Club has done just that—bringing this community together through the power of plants. Today we meet to celebrate its latest gift to the community here in Taylor Park.”
Chiding Petri that she stole his Alexis de Tocqueville reference, Del. Nick Freitas said the famous French diplomat and political scientist’s comment is one of his favorites when he speaks to groups that work to build and preserve community.
“One of the things that’s so unique, is you take personal responsibility for issues and things you care about and spend your own time, creativity and resources to make sure the things you appreciate and love so much are preserved for future generations,” Del. Freitas said. “You’re not just preserving a garden, you’re preserving a living monument that gets passed on to future generations. Thank you for what you do for the commonwealth and what you do to build and preserve community and the beauty of our commonwealth.”
Rep. Spanberger said the club has shown 100 years’ worth of civic engagement by strengthening communities and bringing communities together.
“One hundred years ago, a group of strong, dedicated, gifted women got together and decided to make a difference in their community,” she said. “One hundred years later, we are celebrating what they did, what they achieved and what continues to be done and the foundation they created. The Dolley Madison Garden Club has proven through action that civic engagement cannot only protect our resources but multiply them.”
“Throughout your history, the Dolley Madison Garden Club has been a leader in your community,” Garden Club of Virginia President Jean Gilpin noted. “You created a wildflower preserve along the creek at Woodberry Forest, started the “Love the Dogwood” campaign, adopted miles of roadside beautification along Route 15 where you’ve planted native trees and shrubs and beautified Main Street with all your beautiful planters, and you’ve created a relationship with this park since 1975. But that’s just the beginning.”
She cited the club’s vital role as a founding member of the Garden Club of Virginia, where local club members looked “beyond your community to the commonwealth,” before listing a litany of statewide advocacy projects that resonate and remain evident to this day.
“The Dolley Madison Garden Club and the Garden Club of Virginia have been leaders in the commonwealth in promoting conservation, restoration, preservation of open space and beautification. Our founders realized when they gathered that day in Richmond that together we can accomplish so much. The landscape in Virginia is forever changed because of our work.”
Between the amusing legislative comedy duo of Freitas and Reeves, Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner’s recollection that he knew many of the club’s founders when “they were very old and he was very young” and the prevailing feeling of good will, the audience was well-primed by the warm-up acts by the time Sen. Kaine took the microphone late in the program.
Kaine said he’d planned to spend a long weekend hiking along the Appalachian Trail, but when Harvey called and asked him to attend Sunday’s event it made him pause. “I was so looking forward to three days of hiking,” he said. “But I’ve never said ‘no’ to Ada Harvey because she’s never asked me for anything and she’s always been so supportive of me.” Instead of hiking three days, he’d have to cut short his weekend excursion from Harper’s Ferry, W.Va.
“As I woke up after two days of getting rained on non-stop on the trail, I was thinking ‘God bless Ada Harvey. I was going to be hiking a full day today … ”
Instead, the senator and former Virginia governor said that while the one constant over the past 100 years has been change, the club and its members have devoted themselves to something timeless.
“The enduring value of garden clubs is not just the commitment to beauty and gardens and sharing; it’s your advocacy and that’s a powerful thing. You can’t help but be a Virginian or a visitor to Virginia and see why that’s important.”
Fresh off his weekend in the woods, the senator seemed to capture the mood of those in attendance.
“Think of the diversity of God’s creation—of box turtles and tiny black snakes and woodpeckers off in the distance and spring coming out of the ground and clear, cold springs flowing down to the river. All you have to do is get out a little bit. How can we inspire young people to want to connect more to nature and disconnect from the electronics? When we do that, our lives are so enriched and that’s what you’ve been doing for 100 years and that’s what you’ll keep doing. Thank you for inviting me.”
With that, it was time for the fountain’s dedication and, not surprisingly, a break in the rain. As the Rapidan Chamber Players performed “Water Petals,” a special piece composed by Lyle Sanford specifically for the occasion, nearly 20 members and guests gathered by the fountain for its official ribbon-cutting and dedication.
And, despite Taylor nearly snipping off Kaine’s tie and almost maiming Reeves with the oversized scissors, the ribbon was cut, the fountain dedicated and all that remained was for those assembled to enjoy cake, refreshments and fellowship, while those in the club who have been planning the event for the last however many months (or years) savored the satisfaction of a job well done.