|Durham's official flower: American Hemerocallis.|
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
The Durham Council of Garden Clubs officially disbanded in 2017. However, the individual garden clubs featured in this blog are still alive and thriving in the Durham community.
If you have questions regarding joining or reaching them, please contact The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. http://www.gardenclubofnc.org/
Monday, January 1, 2018
Marcia Loudon as former First Lady Dolley Madison.
By J.S. Corser, Editor, EMG
Croasdaile Garden Club
Anyone can put on a theme party, but few can execute the over-the-top spectaculars that Marcia Loudon can.
Loudon, the District 9 Director for The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc., has been making her mark on event planning with wild abandon like no other Piedmont garden club woman of the past decade. Her State (GCNC) meetings, District 9 meetings and Durham Council of Garden Club Joint Meetings overwhelm the senses with gorgeous decorations, tables laden with beautiful favors and goodies to take home, characters in costume wandering to greet all guests, attendants in audacious head fascinators, slates of highly educational and entertaining speakers, and much more, all of which are orchestrated by an ebullient ringleader with an infectious giggle.
Loudon, however, will be the last to claim credit for any of it. “Marcia’s Army” as it is known by members of the Durham garden clubs, is largely comprised of her Heritage Garden Club sisters: Jean Gurtner, Martha Sanderford and Pat Cashwell (profiled Feb. 2017). Jean and Martha have donned a number a silly costumes from Alice in Wonderland and the timekeeping rabbit, to a fully helmeted beekeeper, to Eliza and Olaf the Snowman from the Disney film “Frozen.” Marcia’s Army generously spent countless hours making crafts and floral decorations for meetings under Loudon’s artistic direction. Loudon herself is a graphic artist with a past advertising career with the Durham Herald. Firing up her Mac and losing track of time noodling around with the latest art downloads is first nature.
For GCNC, Loudon has been the organization’s webmaster since 2012. She has served on the GCNC Finance Committee and Awards Committee, been the District 9 Director and Vice Director, and won several awards for photography submitted for the GCNC calendar. For the Durham Council of Garden Clubs she was Historian four years, Vice President and President (2013-15) during which the Council sponsored a Blue Star Memorial Marker in front of the Durham VA Medical Center, she was a Council Yearbook Editor winning four 1st place awards over the ten years that she was highly involved with its publication, and finally, she created the Council’s Google blog in 2007 and was Editor six years. For the Heritage Garden Club she served as President off and on for six years, was editor of the club’s yearbook and served as its Awards Chair. Loudon is a Lifetime Member of GCNC, the National Garden Club, and South Atlantic Region (SAR) of GCNC.
Artist in Charge: a small collection of Loudon's award-winning Yearbooks and other publications from hosted meetings by the Durham Council of Garden Clubs. Loudon baked the bread beehive centerpiece for the 2015 Joint Meeting themed for beekeeping. Loudon has also won awards for her photography used in The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. calendar.
Loudon is an Oakland, California native, and creativity is only one of her passions; gardening and preservation history are the others. All three pursuits are richly embroidered on her life’s work of philanthropy. As a member of Durham’s General [William R.] Davie Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Loudon’s donned Colonial costume and helped present public programs commemorating historical holidays. Loudon has also been a docent at the Historic Stagville Plantation and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Since 2009, she has been giving costumed talks on Colonial herbs to Triangle garden clubs, charter schools, churches and Duke Gardens, sometimes independently and sometimes with members of “Marcia’s Army” from the Heritage Garden Club.
It was working at the Historic Stagville Plantation in the early 2000s that she was first bitten by the bug to perform educational programs on the Colonial history of women using herbs to gentrify their homes. She recalls sitting in the historic Stagville home one summer and looking at the windows that had no screens. “How did they keep the bugs out? How do you keep the house pleasant and sociable when people did not bathe?” she asked.
From there she plunged into historical research on the Internet, in medicinal herb books and other sources (always two verified sources) to fashion a public lecture around Stagville wife Mary Amis Bennehan as to how to make household products from nature. (The scientific aspects of her public lecture also put to some use her college studies at the Pharmacy School of Toledo University where she met her late husband Jim.)
“I think I have more fun doing the research than telling the stories,” she said. Not one to relish public speaking, she said, “That’s drama and trauma. A one-man show is not my style but I love the stories!”
2015 Award-winning photo by Loudon that was published
in the 2016 GCNC calendar.
The Mary Amis herb lecture became known as the Stagville “Mary A. Party” (pun on Mary Kay cosmetics) in which DIY topics included: making natural lotions, making dried herb and floral tussie-mussies to pass over one’s nose to ward off undesirable smells, making rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) sachets to place inside a pillowcase for restorative sleep, constructing herbal garlands to hang around windows to deter insects and create pleasing fragrance; and numerous other prudent medical and cooking tips like adding bay leaves to flour and sugar containers for insect deterent.
One noted historical herbal use she discusses is the “strewing of herbs” for wooden floor care which was strewing and stomping Artemesia and rosemary onto the planks. “It kept termites and other bugs away. People did not varnish their floors in the old days. Instead the oils from the herbs were used. Historians have found that a lot of the floors that had herb strewing done 200 years ago are still in good shape because of the oils.”
Uses for lambs ear (Stachys byzantina), she says, is a perennial lecture favorite. “Lambs ear is a neat herb and it has antiseptic and astringent properties.” During her lectures for children at Duke Gardens she tells an anecdote that during the time George Washington was a boy that if little boys would scrape a knuckle during play and need a Band-aid, they simply rolled a lambs ear leaf over the abrasion and tied it with a blade of tall grass. “Another interesting property,” she said, is its light color traps the light of the moon. “In the old days you didn’t have indoor plumbing, you had privies. So you would line the path from the house to the privy with lambs ear so that you could see to get to the privy, but you’d also use it like Charmin and pick a piece up on your way.”
Always naming scientific compounds was not essential to her programs, she explained. “I didn’t worry about the exact chemical compounds because the kids wouldn’t remember them, but if you use words like astringent and antiseptic, kids have ideas about their effects. “Astringent” helps dry up the wound and tightens the blood vessels so that a cut doesn’t bleed as much; and “antiseptic” helps keep the microbes away…For second graders you keep it simple. And I found that for 62 year-olds you keep it simple, too!” she said laughing. “I didn’t bother taking the biologists from Duke on tour…”
While the herb lectures began in character as Mary Amis Bennehan, Loudon eventually adapted her role to be the former First Lady Dolley Madison (1809–17). “I talk either about her at Montpelier or at the White House; if it’s Montpelier, it’s about herbs, if the White House, it’s about politics of the time.”
Loudon (center) with two members of her "army," Jean Gurtner and
Barbara Yowell at the 2014 Durham Council "Potting Shed Party"
at the James Sprunt Hill House.
Loudon’s favorite story of Dolley Madison involves scarlet velvet drapes. After her husband’s inauguration Dolley worked with architect Benjamin Latrobe on decorating the White House (1809-1811), and she insisted on dramatic red velvet drapes for a state room. Later, during the 1814 British attack on Washington, she is reported to have used the scarlet drapes to wrap silver and china and pack them into a trunk when fleeing the White House. Over a century later after a niece descendant died, the trunk went to auction and was purchased by the Greensboro Historical Society for $500, in part since Madison was a Greensboro, North Carolina native. Inside the trunk was a red velvet empire-styled gown that was supposed to have been constructed from the White House drapes. The scarlet dress was exhibited at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2012, and replica of it is on display today at the Greensboro History Museum. Loudon said she likes to tease her audiences and propose was this dress evidence of the first Scarlett O’Hara?
Colonial women, like graphic arts is a tireless subject for Loudon. One of her favorite history sources is the blog “History of American Women” which features short biographies of women from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Another favorite resource is the American Gardening History blog in which she discovered the design techniques of Colonial gardener William Faris, a Philadelphian watch-maker who created a strict, geometric backyard garden using boxwood borders to the beds and pathways of crushed brick, oyster shells and stone.
Combining politics and gardening in today’s lectures made sense, she said, because “I talk about how a public garden was used. They had parks like we have botanical gardens today; the gardens were used politically as well as for entertainment. Men would go walking together and they’d politic each other. So many of the people—because it was an agricultural society—really enjoyed their plants and so they would walk along politicking, and it would keep the blood pressure down,” she laughed.
A book she’s also found especially helpful in Colonial garden research is “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation,” authored by Andrea Wulf who spoke at Duke Gardens. She said, “You got the color and flavor of the period,” and added, she was giving tours for DAR at Duke Gardens on early public gardens. “We’d walk around Duke Gardens on Constitution Day, Sept. 17, wearing costumes, saying ‘Happy Constitution Day!’ and give out little American flags and historical garden tidbits to the general public. In conjunction, at 4 p.m. the carillonneur would play patriotic tunes at Duke Chapel.”
Of her work with DAR, “I was trying to tie in my love of plants as well as my love of history.” George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, she noted, both eventually tore out all of the imported European landscaping plants at Mount Vernon and Monticello and replaced them with American varieties. This was their statement in reflecting the aura and personality of America, she said. “They took pride in America and this included their pride in the plant life of their country.”
Loudon, who lives in Semora, NC, says that she is retiring from giving programs, her last one scheduled in February 2018. But she says, she hears from Triangle garden clubs out of the blue asking her to speak because, “The price is right; free is free. I say I’m done, but I’ll go put my wig on again.”
Durham VA chapel decorated with poinsettias for the Poinsettias for Veterans Project
that Loudon created and chaired beginning in 2009.
Loudon says, however, her crowning glory of garden club projects over the years was the creation of the “Poinsettias for Veterans” project she chaired for eight years at the Durham VA Medical Center.
She tells the story of the time her husband and she were at the VA on Christmas Day in 2008 visiting a friend who was dying of cancer. After seeing the friend, she went to look at the chapel since she had never seen it, and she knew that the District garden clubs participate in the “Blooms for Veterans” project which provides a donated floral arrangement/plant to the chapel throughout their fiscal year.
“I went into the chapel and saw two of the sickest Charlie Brown poinsettias, and that was it! I said, ‘Lord help me, these Veterans need to have something to honor them,’” adding that the decoration of choice would need to be something that the US government would accept as Christmas but without looking outright Christian; it needed to be more secular in appearance.
She continued, “I wanted something that didn’t cost a fortune, and to have people honor their own family members and that’s how it came together. This was something that came from the heart and just bubbled up,” she said. She said she then got together with her “Army” over lunch and discuss the marketing and logistics of the project.
From 2009-2016 the VA chapel poinsettias sales grew to over 115 plants, and some had to be overflowed to other rooms.
“The only challenge with project is to get people to water the plants! Luckily I loved doing the watering when I lived in Durham. I got to know which club members sponsored a plant, and as I would water and clean the poinsettia, I liked to state a sentiment in remembrance of that serviceman like, ‘Thank you Sam, for serving. I bet you were a neat dad to so-and-so,’ or something personal to each plant, and it cheered the plants up! Whenever you talk to a plant it works. At the end of the day when you’ve taken care of 100 of them it makes you awfully proud of your country and the men who’ve served and kept us safe.”
Since Loudon moved to Semora, the Poinsettia Project for Veterans has been assumed by the Forest Hills Garden Club. Loudon, however, still has her creative hands busy leading the District 9 garden clubs, managing the GCNC website, participating in DAR events and her church group, and hosting endless other public engagements. Retirement for this passionate herbalist, historian, graphic artist and woman of boundless energy seems very unlikely.
S. Garland (1993). The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices (revised ed.). Readers Digest.
An. Wulf. (2012). Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. New York, NY: Vintage.