By Bonnie Porterfield
Of course, there are The Herb Society of America (HSA) founders, but let’s fast forward to those women instrumental in doing the arduous work of jumping through civic, political, and legal hoops to get the National Herb Garden in Washington, DC, started. We have a number of members to thank for doing this work. From the idea first being presented by Edna Cashmore in her 1966 President’s Report for a national garden, to the work on potential sites, garden designs, legal aspects, and fundraising, this was a monumental project.
When Genevieve Jyurovat assumed the HSA Presidency in 1974, legal oversight of a major endeavor was already part of her skill set. In 1966, as Chairman of the Western Reserve Unit (WRU) of The Herb Society of America, Genevieve worked with attorneys, personnel at the Garden Center of Cleveland (now Cleveland Botanical Garden), and City of Cleveland officials to negotiate a long-term agreement for a property to be developed as an herb garden on city property. She successfully navigated the legal maze to establish permanency for an herb garden funded with private donations but located on public land.
Then, as HSA President, she made almost weekly trips from Hudson, Ohio, to Washington, DC, to consult with attorneys and federal officials on behalf of The Society. According to a tribute to Genevieve written by Past President Madalene Hill,
“These many trips resulted in an agreement between The Society and the Arboretum which in turn culminated in a bill being sent to Congress which would permit the United States Department of Agriculture to accept gifts on behalf of the U.S. National Arboretum. This bill passed the Senate on July 25 and the House on November 4, 1975. The agreement was signed between the Agricultural Research Service and The Herb Society of America in February 1976. Genevieve Jyurovat, with her quiet, soft voiced, low key manner and the iron fist enclosed in a silken glove, had achieved a landmark decision.
Genevieve was the one with the foresight and the will to see that before a penny was raised for the garden, there must be legal underpinnings established to protect such an endeavor. Genevieve was the one with the bulldog tenacity to persevere until her goal was reached. Without her quiet, but persistent efforts to successfully negotiate with the Federal Government, we were in danger perhaps, at some future date of having the National Herb Garden destroyed to provide space for public parking or a building named for the political figure of the day. How could The Society have been so fortunate to have had Genevieve in the right place at the right time?” (The Herb Society of America Newsletter, Volume 4, Issue 9, Fall 2000).
Can you imagine in today’s world how this could be accomplished?
Once Genevieve secured this agreement, she called upon her old friend, Kathrine Patch, for fundraising help. Katherine had assisted Elsetta Barnes, ASLA (one of the first women landscape architects and designer of the current WRHS herb garden), in raising funds for the WRHS herb garden. As the story goes, Elsetta asked Katherine to be the treasurer of this project. “But,” exclaimed Katherine, “I’ve never been treasurer of anything in my life.” “Don’t you pay your bills?” responded Elsetta. “I guess I do,” replied Katherine. And suddenly, Katherine had a new job! Katherine used this experience to raise the initial funds for the National Herb Garden.
With initial funding secured, together with a matching government contribution of $200,000, it was up to HSA President Betty Rea to lobby Congress to have these matching funds restored when budget cuts threatened the project. (That’s the short version of this part of the story.)
On June 12, 1980, the National Herb Garden was dedicated with Mrs. Albert C. Burrage, one of the founding members of The Herb Society of America, presenting the garden and Joan Mondale, the Vice President of the United State’s wife, accepting on the behalf of the American people.
From a single idea of a national herb garden to its dedication, the women of The Herb Society of America got the job done. Cheers to these women as we celebrate Women’s History Month.
Photo Credits: 1) National Herb Garden circa 1980 (US National Arboretum archives); 2) Genevieve Jyurovat (The Herb Society of America archives); Katharine Patch (HSA archives); 3) Dr. John Creech (National Arboretum Director), Betty Rea (HSA), Hon. Robert Bergland (USDA Secretary), Eleanor Gambee (HSA), Rubert Cutler (US National Arboretum archives); 4) Mrs. Joan Mondale, Eleanor Gambee, and Anne Burrage at National Herb Garden dedication, June 12, 1980 (US National Arboretum archives).
Bonnie Porterfield is a forty year Life Member of The Herb Society of America and a member of the Western Reserve Unit. She has served in many roles during that time including two terms as Great Lakes District Delegate, Unit Chair, Co-Chair of the Western Reserve Unit’s first symposium and member of the GreenBridges™ and Library Advisory Committees. She is an avid herb gardener, reader, learner and supporter of local efforts in reestablishing natural areas that promote native plantings.