Enthusiasm is building for The Garden Club of Honolulu’s major flower and horticulture show, set for June 23-25.
Phyllis Wong Lee has been a member of The Garden Club of Honolulu for the past 33 years. Yet as she excitedly prepares for the group’s upcoming flower show — its first since 2018 — she can’t help but also feel a bit nervous.
Scheduled for June 23-25 at Honolulu Museum of Art, the annual show normally takes place every three years. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 event was canceled.
The shutdown, she notes, “impacted the museum in a big way.”
“We really hope that people haven’t forgotten us and that they’ll come because it’s been so long,” says Lee, the event’s chair. “The last time we had this show was in 2018 because we had to wait until now to do this. It’s getting close, and we’re working very excitedly and hoping everything will go well.”
The Garden Club of Honolulu is a part of the Garden Club of America, and nearly 100 judges from throughout the mainland organization’s different clubs will travel to O‘ahu to select this year’s show winners.
Lee selected this year’s show theme, “Oceans: Beyond the Reef,” as a statement that these massive bodies of water are precious resources that need protection now and in the future.
“When we think about our theme, we don’t think just horticulture. We’ve had themes that we hope were relatable to the community and oceans came about. It was a personal choice of mine,” says Lee. “When I was asked to chair the show, part of my responsibility was to come up with a theme, and because of the importance of our oceans — and not only just ‘our’ oceans but oceans beyond the reef — is how I came up with that theme.”
This year’s show will feature a variety of focuses including exhibits in floral design, horticulture (the practice of cultivating garden plants), photography, education, conservation and botanical arts — the latter of which utilizes plant material to create beautiful works of art.
Among the show’s highlights will be a Hawaiian canoe featuring “canoe plants” brought to the islands by early Polynesians to sustain life. The display will feature a four-person canoe carved by woodcrafter Douglas “McD” Philpotts.
In addition, a video will play at specified times in Doris Duke Theatre featuring notable experts who work in the area of biocultural conservation in Hawai‘i. The experts include Kevin Chang, Celeste Connors, Samuel Gon II, Matthew Keir, Nainoa Thompson, Chipper Wichman, Aulani Wilhelm and Ulalia Woodside.
The show will also honor Alice Guild in recognition of her continuing contributions of leadership, talent and knowledge to the Garden Club of Honolulu and the community. A club member since 1987, Guild served as its president from 1992 to 1994 and chaired the 1998 major flower show.
Putting together such a detailed flower show event with multiple elements requires a coordinated effort, according to Lee.
“There’s so much talent in the club, and I just feel fortunate to be able to work with all of them. They’re the ones that are doing all the work. I pride myself on knowing and selecting the people who work on the committees. That’s my main talent. But it’s not hard, because the whole club is filled with peo- ple who are talented,” she says. “What you’re going to see at the show is the result of the talent and time of the members of the entire club.”
When it comes to its history, The Garden Club of Honolulu has been firmly planted on O‘ahu for decades. It was founded in 1930, and its first show was held in 1931 at the Honolulu Academy of Art, which is now known as the Honolulu Museum of Art.
“The museum has been very supportive over the course of the years … The staff is absolutely incredible, so it’s really a major joint effort, is the way I look at it,” Lee says.
Meanwhile, Lee, along with co-chair Janice Lau Fergus and club president Kitty Wo, also travel often to Garden Club of America shows on the mainland as judges. The Garden Club of Honolulu is located in Zone XII of Garden Club of America, which includes the states of Hawai‘i, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
“I just came back from Houston,” says Lee. “They had a big show like we have. I judged horticulture there, serving on a special awards panel, giving out Garden Club of America big awards. Kitty is a floral design judge, and also a botanical arts judge. Janice is a floral design judge and all of us go to shows around the country.”
Like many other members of The Garden Club of Honolulu, Lee has deep roots in the islands. Born and raised on O‘ahu — “I’m a Kaimukī girl,” she says with pride — the Punahou alumna admits to being drawn to plants at a young age.
“My father always was in the yard and I used to go out with him. My grandfather grew roses and orchids and I always admired that. I just liked growing things,” she shares.
Lee took Stepping Stones to Gardening classes at Lyon Arboretum, and later met women who invited her to join The Garden Club of Honolulu.
“I just looked at it as something I could do for the rest of my life, enjoy potting and being involved with plants,” she explains.
Fergus grew up right around the corner from Lee in Kaimukī and their parents knew each other well. Fergus has been a club member for more than a decade.
“My original interest is more in floral design because I have taken quite a bit of ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement) classes,” explains Fergus. “So, if I had to say where my strength is within the garden club disciplines, it would be more in floral design, but through the garden club I’ve just learned about so many other things, learned how to grow things.
“It’s been fun,” she continues. “We’re into a lot of conservation projects. We get a lot of good information through our club about a lot of things that are really critical to the environment, both here locally and also nationally.”
According to Fergus, another nice thing about the garden club is that the members are generous with their time and expertise, and if one member is having trouble with one of their plants, other members are quick to come over to examine the plant and provide useful suggestions.
She adds that the upcoming show will be the club’s way of sharing its expertise in a variety of different disciplines.
“It’s just going to be a nice show and hopefully the public can appreciate everything that’s on display,” Fergus concludes.
Featuring the theme “Oceans: Beyond the Reef,” The Garden Club of Honolulu will host its major flower show later this month at Honolulu Museum of Art.
The event will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 23 and 24; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 25. Museum members will be admitted free. The cost for Hawai‘i residents is $10, and entry is free for youth 18 and under.
“Over the course of three days that we have the exhibit, thousands of people come to see it,” says event chair Phyllis Wong Lee. “They look forward to this show and have for many years. We’re delighted. Our biggest community service as a club that we do is to put this show on.”