Plant Societies and Flower Shows Today



Here's one of my best photos from a recent Daffodil Show at the local public garden – which is to say, they're all crappy.  There really IS no way to make daffodils look good displayed as they must be (I suppose) in a judged show. 

Contrast that bit of ugliness with a sampling of the dozens of gorgeous scenes I spotted OUTDOORS in the very same garden on my recent visit, like those below.  At the risk of infuriating flower-show devotees everywhere, can I meekly postulate that plants are more beautiful IN the garden?  Flower shows just don't do it for me and never have. (Though I hasten to add that I admire the passion on display here, even if the display itself is lame to my eyes.  In fact, the more obscure the plant group, the more I admire the passion it inspires in its fans.  Carnivorous plants, anyone?)


Plant Societies Today
So, how ARE flower shows and the plant societies that put them on faring lately?  Except for native-plant societies, which don't have shows at all, you don't hear much about them.  These days, the spotlight is mainly on the growing of edibles, and it's hard for the even the latest and greatest in daffodils, hostas, or roses to get much attention.

I've tried researching the state of plant societies today and couldn't find a thing.  So readers, help us out here.  Are they dying off with the decline of older gardeners and rise of the young urban farmer, or holding their own?  Do YOU belong to any plant societies, and if you do, why?

Previous articleTulips en Masse
Next articleObama to close IPM centers?
Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. Edibles vs. ornamental plants in the news? Ornamental horticulture vs. agriculture.

    When newspapers print articles on growing your own food they consider it ornamental horticulture reporting too.

    Lump flower shows with plant societies? Why not decide upon reality & making money?

    St. Louis, MO combined their flower show with their home builders association.

    I design landscapes with ornamental plants & potager’s covering all you describe as “landscaping”. And MORE.

    Exterior paint colors, shutters, light fixtures, decks, patios, ponds, paths, focal points, arbors, gates & etc. You get the idea.

    Can’t imagine narrowing the scope to only ornamental plants & veggies for my landscape design work.

    It was heartening to discover the same perspective in St. Louis.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. No.
    I’m not really sure there are any plant societies that meet near me — my city doesn’t even seem to have a run of the mill garden club. Plenty of farmer’s markets, but not a word about garden days or a local gardener’s group. At least, if we do have one I don’t know the secret handshake, the password, or the location of the super secret batcave it meets in.

  3. We have the Wellesley Horticultural Society in my area. I am not a member but maybe one of these days I will drop in and see what it is all about.
    I love your outdoor photos – I only wish they were a larger so I could get a good look at them.

  4. Plant societies are going strong as far as I’ve witnessed. We profile a different local plant society or garden club in each issue of Washington Gardener Magazine and it is refreshing to meet serious plant geeks in person. From Iris lovers to Succulent collectors, I’ve observed that if they are in one of these groups then they are very active gardeners all-around as well. I recently joined the local Rock Garden Society and enjoyed a wonderful expert’s talk on growing mosses. They are publishing terrific journals and books, but most of their work is off-line so many why this GR community is not as in touch with them?

  5. I belong (or -ed) to two Hort Societies. Since my marriage break-up I find it hard to balance trying to find a babysitter for a weeknight with the desire to go and learn about more plants. I had been the high points award winner two years running for one of the societies. Personally I love the competition (friendly competition) of the flower shows, when someone is putting out their best designs it raises the bar for all of us. It is the same as any art form, when you see something that speaks to you it sings. The actual specimen displays are not as exciting, unless of course you have been battling it out with the same lady or gentleman to get the first place ribbon for years, unfortunately two of my competitors died a few years ago. This is the real problem, there are not many young people to take the reins. I was devestated when I finally got the first place for my delphiniums, it was really by default because the lady had died.

  6. great comments, good to know.

    Laurie, glad you like the photos and to see them or similar ones larger, scroll up to yesterday’s Rant post about tulips. Also there’s a link in that post to more photos on my blog.

  7. I belong to several very active horticultural societies but the members and financial backers are dwindling primariy to the economy. Even the ones that deal with specific plant passions are feeling the pinch.

  8. I don’t think you can safely generalize about the alleged decline of plant societies, and their state of health here along the west coast is indicative of that. The San Diego Horticultural Society and the Pacific Northwest Horticultural Society, along with the predominantly PNW Hardy Plant Society are doing quite well, while here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the California Horticultural Society which is the oldest of this group seems to be at a low ebb attendance wise, and has problems generating enough member enthusiasm to continue sponsoring annual volunteer plant sales. At the same time, various smaller plant specific societies here in San Francisco that I also belong to such as the Bromeliad Society and Cactus and Succulent Society are quite active, and growing in attendance, along with active group participation in group annual sales. The two local Botanic Garden Societies with their annual sales are also quite active here in San Francisco and Berkeley. More local garden societies that are less regional in nature are also still going strong here in the SF Bay Area.

    On the other hand, relative to our regional population, the numbers of society members here is small compared to participation up in the Seattle area. How do you explain this? Plant Societies for particular plants or general horticulture have a natural ebb and flow, and the force of personalities and events conspire to drive them up or down. Just as fashions go in and out, so does the popularity of particular types of plants.

    I do notice that there seems to be a gap in membership of younger members these days, with the 20/30 something group least represented. Could this have at least as much to do with pressures of raising kids, and not enough time to attend meetings? My generation, the late 40’s/early 50’s on up to the 60’s and 70’s still seems quite strong here locally.

    While I do enjoy picking fruit out of my own garden and raising a few vegies, (I used to have a full vegetable garden back in high school days and college), I don’t find it as interesting as other aspects of ornamental landscape design, and don’t base my practice on catering to this except when asked to incorporate it into a design.

    I have personally seen how a particular plant society can be reinvigorated by the enthusiasm of a few key people, the harder part is developing a wider base than can continue if these key people leave.

  9. The Sacramento Region has a multitude of plant societies, most of which are actually based in the city. I live in Roseville (30 minutes outside of the city) which has a few garden clubs & such, but they all seem to meet during the day while I’m at work. I’d love to belong to several, either in Sacramento where I work or near my home, but it doesn’t appear to be possible for the near future.

  10. “So, how ARE flower shows and the plant societies that put them on faring lately?”

    In my neck of the woods plant societies do not put on flower shows, corporate event planners do.
    They often display at the shows, but they do not ‘put on’ the show.

    Unless you are talking about the ‘individual garden societies’ putting on their own individual plant shows, that really doesn’t occur much out of their regular scheduled evening.
    The societies usually show their plants on the regularly scheduled meeting dates, which usually meet once or twice a month, depending on the season.

    I belong to a number of garden societies here in the S.F. Bay area and some are maintaining their attendance rates while others are gaining by leaps and bounds in their popularity.

  11. I have belonged to the local Horticulture society for about ten years now.Over that time span we have seen membership grow by about 50%.And we have also increased membership with younger gardeners.I think the key is in the programs that are presented.We also ask members to tell us what they want to know more of.The drawback is that we meet on a Monday,during the day.That’s because the founding members were retirees.It eliminates a lot of employed people,but a few of them take that day off to attend.The older gardeners have a wealth of information to share,that is much appreciated by the younger ones.We have a plant exchange each July where we can trade for some of the heirloom varieties of plants not available in stores.And every other year we put on a flower show with open invitation for the community to participate.We work on community improvements projects,install and take care of gardens at non profits (Community Theater,Historical Society,etc.)
    It’s been a great experience so far,every community should be as fortunate.

  12. I hope I’m not out of line changing the subject, but did you see any daffodils at the show you simply MUST get a hold of for yourself?

  13. Our Camellia Club in Wilmington, NC is pretty rockin’

    Otherwise, I’m not too sure. I hate HATE meetings, so I don’t really go to any!

  14. I think the general public, even the general gardening public, doesn’t know these various plant societies exist. A couple years ago I approached the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and co-organized an event called “Cross-Pollination” which was a fair where plant societies and garden groups could talk with each other as well as meet the public. We approached many many groups. Some accepted and we had a range from local permaculture groups, mycology society, CRFG, rose societies and others. Groups that don’t necessarily talk to each other much. It was an interesting afternoon and hopefully spread the word to visitors to the botanical garden that day.

  15. Like Donna, I belong to the Florida Native Plant Society only. But I have discovered a new world of plant societies on my year-long, self-designed book tour. I’ve been to meetings, spring fests, garden expos here in Florida. Many of them are organized or sponsored by such societies. The one in Winter Garden a few weeks ago was organized by the Bloom n Grow Society, but often the events are the work of several groups working together. The one next week in St. Pete is sponsored by the city.

  16. Plant societies and flower shows are doing fine here in Minneapolis and St. Paul — one of my garden clubs is having a special meeting tonight with people from Minnesota plant societies such as:
    * American Hemerocallis Society
    * Daffodil Society of Minnesota
    * Hennepin County Horticulture Society
    * Iris Society of Minnesota
    * Minnesota Dahlia Society
    * Minnesota Hosta Society
    * Minnesota Native Plant Society
    * Minnesota Peony Society
    * Minnesota Rose Society
    * Minnesota Water Garden Society
    * North American Rock Garden Society (Minnesota)
    * North Star Lily Society
    * Orchid Society of Minnesota
    * Ornamental Grass Society of Minnesota
    * Twin Cities Rose Club

    I just wish there was a society for people who like unusual annuals and tropicals.

    My other garden club just put on a great flower show last September — it was somewhat bizarre but ultimately fun to follow all the guidelines for displaying cut specimens and creating flower arrangements.

  17. Our local garden center does a rose show every year with gift cards and ribbons as prizes. Hundreds of roses arranged on a series of stepped shelves look gorgeous. Maybe they look better on the plant in the garden, but they look pretty good all lined up, contributions from gardens all over our area.

    A lot of little kids enter and it’s so much fun to see them jump up and down when they win something. A fine way to get kids excited about gardening.

  18. i would love to be part of a club or society devoted to gardening, but i don’t have the time. i’m (for one more year, darnit!) one of those 30somethings who aren’t well represented in some garden organizations. older women past childrearing duties, perhaps retired or only working part time, can devote more of their time to additional activities beyond the planting and care of the home garden itself. money is another factor for working class gardeners like me. the societies here seem to do a lot of volunteer work, but pay for the plants themselves. i have to carefully manage my budget, and i wouldn’t want to embarrass myself by being the only member of a garden club who couldn’t afford 30$ in flats to beautify some civic space.

  19. I am a longtime member of The North American Rock Garden Society, and one who rarely gets to meetings. On a spur of the moment decision, my husband and I recently attended their Eastern Wintern Study Weekend, and the lineup of speakers was top notch…Bill Cullina, Daryl Probst, Jan and Marty Sachs, Gordon Hayward, and more. There was so much good and new plant information being dispensed, I was taking notes as if I was getting college credit. There were not many folks who brought in plants to display in the various award catagories, but those that did brought in some astonishing specimens of Saracenia and Corydalis. The event was very well attended and was the ultimate plant geeks vacation.

  20. Here in Palm Beach County, at least a dozen plant societies meet at Mounts Botanical Garden, including Rose, Bromeliad, Rare Fruit, Orchid, Begonia, Herb,Palm and Cycad, Bonsai, and also, the Florida Native Plant Society, which is the one I belong to. I agree with the previous comment – the younger crowd has less time for attending meetings as they struggle to get established. However, they too will grow older, and maybe the societies will always be comprised of a slightly older set. Their contribution to the gardening world is important.

  21. I fell in love with some special daffodils when I saw them displayed at a flower show exactly as you have pictured. I was not turned off by the display at all–didn’t even think about it since I was in such awe of a large number of cultivars that I had never seen before.

    I think flower shows are cool, and if there was a society near me, I would join, not to show, but to associate with and learn from and with those who are truly passionate about a specific genus.

  22. Check out Southern Garden History Society (, which has a great quarterly publication, the Magnolia, and really interesting Annual Meetings at beautiful locations.

Comments are closed.