One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Spokane is the community spirit that is driven by the many social organizations and clubs.
One of the clubs that has been an integral part of Spokane development is the Associated Garden Clubs. The group has its roots with the formation of the Spokane Floral Association in 1896; the first garden club in the state of Washington. This was during City Beautiful era in America when garden clubs and other civic groups promoted beautification through the development of gardens in blighted areas. Spokane was part of this movement and between 1900 and the early 1930s, the city’s many neighborhood garden clubs helped develop green spaces throughout the city.
In 1933, the Associated Garden Clubs, the Spokane Floral Association and six other garden and community clubs came together to have Spokane declared the Lilac City after Portland was designated the Rose City. The City Beautiful efforts did have their competitive side.
In 1938, inspired by the new Portland Rose Festival, the groups held the first Lilac Festival Flower Show that featured displays of French, Persian and Chinese lilacs. On the side there was a small parade. The Davenport Hotel’s lobby was filled with bouquets of lilacs for the occasion. The first Lilac queen and court were selected in 1940, and the parade evolved into our current Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. Today the parade is managed by the independent Lilac Festival Association.
After the Lilac Festival was spun off, the Associated Garden Clubs’ neighborhood-based groups continued their work beautifying the city and creating green spaces and small pocket parks. Many of the small odd triangles of land created by the intersection of streets on Spokane’s South Hill were planted and cared for by various AGC neighborhood garden clubs. Being a member of your neighborhood garden club was an important way for women in the 1940s and ’50s to become involved in the community. Today it is still an important way to engage with like-minded neighbors. Many of the original clubs are still active including Lincoln Heights, Manito, Rockwood and Spokane.
In 1986 the Associated Garden Clubs created their now famous April Plant Sale and held the city’s first garden tour as a way of showing off some of the city’s great private gardens. The sale and tour also helped raise funds to support beautification projects all over the city and scholarships for the Lilac Festival Court.
Some of the places that have benefited from these events include Manito Park, gardens and landscaping around schools, the downtown YWCA, Spokane Civic Theatre, Riverfront Park, Hospice of Spokane, the Turner-Moore Heritage Gardens and Polly Judd Park.