Kitty Larkin is the first Wisconsinite
to head the
National Garden Clubs Inc.
Kitty Larkinís love for gardening has
led her to a place no one from Wisconsin has ever been. She is the
39th president of the National Garden Clubs Inc., an organization of
7,200 clubs across the United States with more than 209,000 members.
And, she is the first president ever to come from the Badger State.
Larkin, a Menomonee Falls resident, has
always had a green thumb. She started gardening as a young homemaker
whose house sat on a four-acre lot in Sussex. "With all of that
room, I had to make use of it," she says. It took some
persistence and hard work, but the land was eventually transformed
into a showcase of floral gardens, vegetable gardens, a small orchard
and even a vineyard. "There was always room to plant a new
specimen or another row of vegetables to add to the larder for our
winter meals. After that, it was just a natural progression to join a
garden club," she says.
Known to her family and friends as
someone who always jumps into a project with both feet, Larkin soon
wanted to see what was beyond the state level in the garden club
organization. What she found enticed her into becoming more active on
all levels of garden club activity. "While landscape design was
the initial impetus to getting started in the garden clubs, floral
design soon became her main focus. Things just took off from
there," according to her biography.
Larkin worked her way up through the
ranks of the National Garden Clubs. She was state president of the
Wisconsin Garden Clubs from 1983-85. "Itís a long, drawn-out
process. I started out as state president, then central regional
director, recording secretary, and then eight years as vice
president," she says. After she serves two years as president,
she will move on to Director of Endowments.
During her term as president from
2005-07, Larkin wonít have much time to putter around her own
garden, albeit a smaller one than in the past. "I no longer live
on four acres; now itís just one-third of an acre. Last summer, I
wasnít able to plant any annuals; I concentrated on
perennials," she says. She will be on the road for much of the
year, visiting all of the state chapters. "From March through
June and September through October, the travel is constant. In fact,
in April, Iíll be visiting 12 state chapters in a row without coming
The National Garden Clubs is currently
focusing on a project titled Patriotic Trees in honor of our veterans,
past and present. "This is a 12-year tree planting project going
on all across the country. Every state is participating. This is just
one way to honor all of our heroes," Larkin explains. Through her
chapter visits, she will be helping to encourage participation in the
project. The group also will be dedicating its "Butterfly
Garden" in Washington D.C. in September of this year. "This
is the culmination of an eight-year project near the capital. It is
very exciting," she says.
The club has its fingers in many pies,
including a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. "We have a
Walk for Habitat, which raises funds to plant trees. Weíre also
raising funds that will be used to help victims of Hurricane
Katrina," Larkin explains.
The organization also sponsors classes
in landscape design and gardening. A $3,500 scholarship is awarded per
year. "That investment has made a big impact in the lives of many
people," she says. For youngsters, the Buds and Sprouts Program
teaches children to appreciate plants.
If this sounds like a demanding
routine, it is! But it is a labor of love for Larkin, who is happiest
when she is knee-deep in a project. "I have always had an
interest in volunteerism of some kind," she says. During her
three childrenís school years, Larkin was one of the few non-working
mothers available to volunteer for many of the projects that were
going on at school. Girl Scouts, "Band Mom" and church
activities were just a few. The Girl Scout troop became a junior
garden club and that began her foray into gardening. Over the years,
she has served as environmental chairman at her church, taking care of
the floral designs within the church.
When asked if she has a favorite
flower, she hesitates. "I think I like the early spring daffodils
best," she says. What she likes more, however, is the challenge
of trying something new.
Over the years, Larkin has received
several awards and recognitions, including presidential citations from
the Wisconsin Garden Clubs and National Garden Clubs, the Doris Swartz
Award, the highest district award from the Wisconsin Garden Clubs. She
was named Volunteer of the Year by Waukesha County and received the
Americanism and Legislative Awards from the American Legion Auxiliary.
She is a member of National Flower Arrangers, the American
Horticulture Society and a former member of the Governorís Arbor Day
What is the best part of being involved
in the National Garden Clubs for Larkin? "The number of lives
that we touch through all aspects of gardening," she says. She
has a theory that gardening has something to offer everyone, but not
everything is meant for everyone. Her advice is to get involved in
something. "Be selective about what you do, but make sure you
become involved and remain active. What happens in your life is up to
you," she says.