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Gardening CEO
Kitty Larkin is the first Wisconsinite 
to head the National Garden Clubs Inc.

By JOANN PETASCHNICK

April 2006

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 home."

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 Commission.

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.