Garden Club Federation's annual state convention blooms in Monroeville

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 1:05 p.m.

The 84th annual Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania convention, which runs from April 6 to 8 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Monroeville, is a great opportunity for education, said Judith Schaffer, state convention coordinator.

“It's an opportunity for people to come and see speakers that a normal garden club or a small group would never be able to afford,” said Schaffer, of Lower Burrell.

Several workshops and speakers are scheduled over the three days. The main speakers typically give their presentations in conjunction with meals at the convention and will cover topics in floral design and horticulture, Schaffer said.

“The goal of a convention is to educate people in the different fields of gardening,” Schaffer said.

“Some is floral design, and some is horticulture.”

The featured speaker this year is On Thai of Surroundings Floral Studio in Schenectady, N.Y., who will present the program “Passion and the Art of Design” during a dinner session April 7, Schaffer said.

With the theme of “My Fair Pittsburgh,” the convention will have a Victorian-era feel that focuses on flowers. Elements of the theme are picked up in everything from the logo used for the convention to antiques dealers in the vendors area, Schaffer said.

The convention logo is a drawing of a woman with a basket of flowers standing in front of the Point in downtown Pittsburgh, said Marcy Cunkelman, of Conemaugh Township, Indiana County. Cunkelman worked with the convention artist, Alice Stewart, to design the logo.

With about 5,500 members, the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, or GCFP, is a charitable, volunteer organization of people who share interests in gardening and related activities. The three-day annual convention takes place in April in a different part of the state each year.

A “nice variety” of vendors will be at the convention's marketplace, said Carolyn Sutton, vendor chairwoman on the convention-planning committee.

To keep with the Victorian theme, Sutton booked vendors selling teacups, vintage jewelry and vintage garden items. Among the other items the 17 vendors will sell include food, ceramic plant pottery and other gardening items, Sutton said.

“If you are interested in flowers and gardening, then you will enjoy the state convention,” said Sutton, of Cheswick.

Convention events such as workshops, tours and meals with speakers have fees.

There is no fee to view exhibits set up by different garden clubs or entries in the flower show or to visit the vendors marketplace, in the hope that this will draw more people to just look around, Schaffer said.

“That way, we get the word out that a garden club is here and let people have the opportunity to see top designs and a flower show,” she said.

For the first time in at least 20 years, the state convention will include a flower show that will be judged by 21 professional competitive-level judges, said Joyce Peterson of Forest Hills, chairwoman of the flower show.

The show will take entrants in a total of 27 entry classes that are spread out over two main categories — horticulture and floral design. Horticulture deals with the quality of the plant and the skills used to grow it, while floral design has entries in which artistry is used in the arrangement of flowers, Peterson said.

Entry classes in the horticulture category include perennials, flowering shrubs, evergreens and combination plantings. The floral-design categories include arrangements that should focus on elements of Pittsburgh, such as rivers and bridges, Peterson said.

The horticulture category is open to anyone, and all entries must be set up April 5, whereas floral-design entries are limited to Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania members, Peterson said.

Judging will be done April 5, and winners will receive ribbons.

The flower show will be on display throughout the convention, Peterson said.

“Everyone loves flower shows,” Peterson said. “Visitors may be surprised by what they find and want to join a garden club.”

About 350 people are expected to register for the convention, Schaffer said.

“Once we start on Sunday, we've taken over the whole hotel until Tuesday, when we start breaking everything down,” Schaffer said.

While most attendees are members of their local garden club, they are unable to regularly see the speakers who are featured at this year's convention, Schaffer said.

“People get the opportunity to see speakers and flower designs that they would normally not be able to,” she said. “Plus, they get to meet other gardeners from all over the state.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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