Forgotten Girl Scout Gardens #1
Girl Scouting's 1st Memory Garden

A long, long time ago - or so I'm told, is the story of the very first Girl Scout Memory Garden. Tucked away behind the very first Girl Scout Little House in Washington DC, it no longer exists - having long ago been bulldozed under to make way for progress. However, old newspaper clippings recall a simpler time when Presidential First Ladies (being ardent Girl Scout supporters) as well as international dignitaries and upper society people could wander the small oasis of the first Girl Scout Memory Garden.

I understand that many would think that the famed garden at Juliette Low's Birthplace, in Savannah, GA, should be considered the first important garden of Girl Scouting. However, the Birthplace wasn't even owned by GSUSA until the 1950's, when a massive campaign was launched to buy it and restore it to it's 1860's glory. 

This Memory Garden was first mentioned in the newspapers in the summer of 1930, when the society section of several newspapers carried a story on what First Lady Lou Henry Hoover was doing while recuperating from a back injury. It was noted that she was spending her time doing a lot of knitting, with barely a mention that she had just completed a rock garden in the backyard of the 1st Girl Scout Little House. 

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The story of the rock garden at the Girl Scout Little House gain momentum!

 

Soon prestigious people with prestigious gardens began letting the newspapers know that they were donating prestigious plants and flowers to the garden. Rocks were donated from many parts of the world by friends of Girl Scouting. Later still, the Girl Scouts of each state were allowed to send in one rock of "significance" to the house.

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The Memory Garden's sundial was loved by all.
The face of the dial was inscribed with:
"My Face Only Marks the Sunny Hours. What Can You Say of Yours?" 









 

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1750 New York Ave, Washington DC
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This Library of Congress image was taken in the backyard of the Little House and shows the
1st Memory Garden, along with 2 Girl Scouts, a Girl Scout adult and, I suspect, Mrs. Hoover and 2 Secret Service guys.

The first donations came from
the First Lady's own gardens, and included ivy & Virginia creeper to cover the brick walls of the Little House, violets from the President's property, ferns, rose bushes, and mountain laurel. An old sycamore tree had been left in place when the house was moved to it's location, at the request of the First Lady.
A "Dorothy Perkins" rose bush was donated by Mrs. George Akerson, who was the wife of the secretary of the President. The owner of Gunston Hall donated two boxwood trees.  Mrs. Harley Payton Wilson of Hollin Hall, VA donated some of her prize winning dahlias. Mr. and Mrs. William Stephen Corby gave a hydrangea from their Chevy Chase estate.

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A stated goal of the garden was to be the "richest hill on earth." To that end a 50lb foundation stone from the home of Mary Todd Lincoln was added. A historic granite paving block which had an old history of being sent to New Orleans as ship ballast during the early days of the settlement there was sent. As was a 275lb manganese rock was shipped by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company from Montana. Illinois Girl Scouts sent a historic sandstone rock from the site of a great battle between two Native American tribes, after being legally removed, of course. Tennessee Girl Scouts sent in a block of Tennessee marble. Not to be outdone, Texas Girl Scouts sent in a limestone memorial rock.

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First Lady Lou Henry Hoover

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First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planting a Camelia Japonica bush with the able help of Jean Only of Arlington, VA, This is one of two known staged photos of this event. Note that everyone (except Jean) are standing on tarps, least they get their shoes soiled.

When FDR was elected to the Presidential office, this brought a change in the oversight of the Girl Scout Little House. As Honorary President of the Girl Scouts, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt brought a fresh look to gardening. She had a  playground and sand box installed, for children to play in. She also had a vegetable & herb garden installed. It's not known how this effected the Memory Garden, but newspaper stories of the garden dwindled.

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According to this news clip, the care of the grounds of the Little House fell to the National Youth Administration, with local young people doing the work.

Known Donations to the Girl Scout Little House Memory Garden:

  • First Lady Lou Henry Hoover; Ivy & Virginia Creeper from her 8th Street home, violets, ferns, wild roses & laurels from the President's Rapidan camp.

  • ​Mrs. George Akerson (wife of the secretary of the President); Dorothy Perkins rose.

  • Mrs. Harley Payton Wilson of Hollin Hall, VA: prize-winning dahlias

  • Mr & Mrs William Stephen Corby; hydrangea

  • Louis Hertle & wife Eleanor Daughaday, owners of Gunston Hall, Mason Neck, WA; two boxwood trees

  • Butte, MT Girl Scouts; Bitter Root, state flower

  • Butte, MT Girl Scouts and the Anaconda Copper Mining Company; 275lb manganese rock (a photo of the placement of this stone was taken)

  • New Orleans Girl Scouts; Historic granite paving block. This rock had two centuries of history under four flags, being used as ship's ballast in the earlies days of settlement of New Orleans.

  • Lexington, KY Girl Scouts; Foundation stone from the home of Mary Todd Lincoln's home

  • Lexington, KY Girl Scouts - after realizing the Little House Memory Garden did not have any - sent sod of Kentucky Blue Grass for the garden

  • Oak Park Area Girl Scouts of Berwyn, IL;  Brown Sandstone from Starved Rock State Park, site of a legendary battle between two Native American nations (which may or may not have happened).   It was legally removed.

  • Texas Girl Scouts (likely from the Fort Worth area); Limestone

  • Tennessee Girl Scouts; Tennessee Marble

  • Ohio Girl Scouts; Buckeye Tree and a Mary Wallace rose

  • Hartford, Connecticut Girl Scouts; root of a laurel or a laurel shrub, depending on the newspaper article

  • First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Norway Spruce, from the home of FDR's mother at Hyde Park, NY

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Dorothy Perkins

Highcountryroses.com

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Gunston Hall, Mason Neck, VA

sutori.com

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Mary Wallace

A. Buckingham

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According to a 1973 issue of the Girl Scout Leader magazine, the Little House remained active until at least 1955. However, newspaper stories of the Little House declined greatly after 1938. The fate of Lou Henry Hoover's Memory Garden is unknown.
Did it survive the tenures of the other Honorary Presidents?

The take away from this garden is that it inspired newly-established Girl Scout Little Houses to plant their own Memory Gardens.

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover planted a California Redwood in the front yard of the Little House. Like everything else - it's no longer there. It is now the site of the 8-story United Unions Building. I hope that all those prestigious plants and significant rocks were carefully recorded and transplanted somewhere appropriate.


 

Learn more about the Girl Scout Little House here