When the Garden Club of America comes to town, it takes both of New Orleans’ local member clubs to stage a proper welcome. Julie George of the Garden Study Club and Barbara Bush with the New Orleans Town Gardeners have been working for the past three years to make arrangements for the GCA’s annual meeting May 6-10, the first to be held in the Crescent City since 1991.

“We had to reserve the space at the Hilton five years ago, but have been working on planning the tours and exhibitions constantly for the past three years,” said Bush. “The flower show, exhibits, and boutique are open to the public and we hope everyone comes out and joins us in welcoming our counterparts from elsewhere.”

According to Town Gardeners member Karin Giger, the “Rhythm of the Rivers” flower show entries are different from simple flower arrangements and are judged very rigorously according to an exact set of standards.

“Entries have to conform to strict requirements that specify the size and shape of the container and a number of other factors,” Giger noted. “They are placed atop pedestals for viewing so everyone can get a look.”

Bush said that exhibits include photographs as well as educational displays about conservation, horticulture and the environment.

“Garden clubs may sound frivolous,” said George, who is co-chairing the event with Bush, “but that is only if you don’t know what they do.”

The national GCA, for example, has become a major lobbying force in Washington, D.C. for the environment, conservation, and ecological concerns. In its one hundred year history, it has made monetary awards to dozens of member clubs across the United States, including a Founder’s Fund Award in 2007 after Hurricane Katrina, to the Garden Study Club and Town Gardeners for restoration of the gardens around Popp’s Bandstand in City Park.

Locally, the two GCA member clubs have lent a hand restoring gardens — either singly or as a team — including Longue Vue, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, Lee Circle, Jackson Square, the Beauregard Keyes house, the Hermann Grima and Gallier Houses, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue.

Other projects include assisting with edible schoolyards and funding studies about coastal erosion.

The Garden Study Club also works with the New Orleans Museum of Art every spring to stage “Art in Bloom,” a fundraiser for the museum and for the club. The GCA uses that money and proceeds from its annual caladium bulb sales for civic beautification projects.

Another way that the clubs will raise funds for their community work is through sales at the boutique during the annual meeting at the Hilton.

“We worked hard to get great vendors and have about 35,” said Bush. “Not everything is directly inspired by the garden, but one that is very popular is Angela’s Garden. It makes gardening clothes like hats and gloves in fun print fabrics.”

When they aren’t hearing presentations or viewing exhibits and flower displays at the Hilton, meeting attendees will be partaking in a variety of tours and events that will put New Orleans on display.

“We have tours arranged for them of public and private gardens, including one to edible schoolyards,” George said. “We’ll be showcasing New Orleans and all we have to offer.”

R. Stephanie Bruno can be reached at rstephaniebruno@gmail.com