On an English tour, Mrs. King became impressed by the British Womans
Garden and Farm Organization. She returned to the United States
determined to recreate the organization in this country. In 1912 she
took her first step in this direction by forming the Gardeners Club of
Michigan. In 1914 she became a founding member and first president of
the Women's Agricultural and Horticultural Association in America.
(later renamed to Woman's National Farm and Garden Association). She was
also instrumental in forming the Garden Club of America, serving as
President and Founder and receiving their top honor, a Gold medal, in
The Gardeners Club of America was particularly successful in
attracting as members prominent women from the American social elite:
the Biddles of Philadelphia, the Ridgeleys of Baltimore and the
McCormicks of Chicago, all became members. Despite the important role
these women played in promoting gardening, Mrs.King believed that garden
clubs were not elitist. Rather, she believed gardening was fundamental
to American democracy and in her writing argued that a love of plants
could break down differences between different economic groups and
neighbors. Adopting a very Jeffersonian spirit she believed that
gardening served the human spirit.
"Rich or poor, old or free, when we garden we are at the
same work; we work in faith that the seasons will still roll for us and
for our sowing's and planting's. There is no other such meeting-ground
there is no community of interest such as this of gardens."
The garden clubs in which Mrs. King was involved did indeed
prove to be more than simple social organizations of individuals with
similar avocational interests. The clubs provided an outlet for women
to organize themselves and gave them access to educational sources,
discussion groups, and resources. The WNFGA led by Elizabeth Leighton
Lee and Jane Browne Haines, the founder of the Pennsylvania school of
horticulture for women, provided scholarships and funding for women to
go to agricultural colleges and schools of landscape architecture. The
groups provided an outlet for many whose access to formal higher
education limited or denied.
During World War I Mrs. King immersed herself into war work
with the WNFGA and the GCA's Womens Land Army in New York city. This
plan had placed over 15,000 "farmerettes" on farms throughout the
country to alleviate the problem of a shortage of expert help on the
land. The operation was a success, despite concerns, and Mrs. King won
the Bronze medal from the National War Garden Commission for her efforts
in food production. Mrs. King believed the WNFGA encouraged women to
join together from both the city and the farm, crossing the economical
boundaries that were to be found in other aspects of society.
The Michigan branches of the WNFGA were particularly strong
under the watchful eye of Mrs King. Many Michigan gardeners
participated in the Mid-West Branch from 1915-1926, which began at Mrs
King's Alma house. The Michigan branch also benefitted from the presence
of Mrs Clara (Henry) Ford of Dearborn. Mrs. Ford was the national
President from 1927-1934 and was a devotee of Mrs. King's lectures and
books On several occasions she visited Mrs. King in Alma. Today, at
least one branch of the WNFGA remains active in Milford, Michigan.
Mrs King was also actively involved in local gardening groups
and projects in the Alma area. This involvement continued throughout
her life and included such activities as hosting the annual flower show,
giving regular lectures, and participating in the Civic League of Alma.
The League, formed in May 1907, contributed to many beautification
projects during the 1920s: the cleanliness of streets and yards,
establishing more water fountains, planting elm trees along the road to
St. Louis as a memorial to those killed in World War I, planting a
beautiful rose hedge at the train depot and planting a lilac grove at
the Great Union school. During this time Mrs. King was vice president of
the League. Her strong belief in the democratizing effect of gardening
was clearly seen in Alma were she encouraged individuals of various age,
privilege, and economic standing to become involved in the projects and
took particular time to involve the community's children.
Mrs. King had a particular concern for involving children in
In 1910 she helped produce a collection of verse for the
Michigan Forestry Association. The verse was used on "Forestry Day,"
which was marked by programs presented in the Woman's Clubs and Granges
of Michigan, and, perhaps more importantly in her mind, for Arbor Day,
the celebration of gardening in the schools. She firmly believed that
children could and would appreciate the beauty and peaceful nature of a
garden. In 1921, in her book The Little Garden, she clearly saw
that gardens could be designed with children in mind: "In the successful
treatment of ground small in dimension, in the beautiful quality of the
little garden, lies the true future beauty of America."
In 1921 the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts awarded
her the George Robert White medal - making her the first female
recipient and only one of two women to receive it until 1968. Mrs. King
was a prominent figure listed in Who's Who of America. As well as
her national and local involvement in gardening clubs and the Civic
League she was a strong voice in the Women's League of Voters and always
maintained a distinct thread of feminism through all the organizations