Champion Flower Show Exhibitor and Donor
Posted on October 3, 2018
Deb Donaldson and her husband John became PHS members in the late 1980s. Deb’s love of plants began with growing orchids and bromeliads. It wasn’t until a trip to Arizona in 2001 where she saw cacti and succulents growing in the wild, followed by a visit to expert horticulturist Dr. Gerald Barad in 2003, that she fell under the spell of succulents. “I saw his plants and fell in love with the architectural elements of them and the bizarre, wild, crazy, diversification in the succulent family. I was hooked.”
She entered the Philadelphia Flower Show for the first time that year with the encouragement of Mrs. Dorrance Hamilton. “I didn’t find it intimidating -- I was used to competing at that level at horse shows such as Devon as a child,” Deb recalled. She found the other exhibitors warm and welcoming and so encouraging at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Dr. Barad, one of the most acclaimed cacti and succulent growers in the world, exhibited at the Flower Show for years, often coming in as a runner-up to Mrs. Hamilton. “When he passed away in 2016, I started propagating more plants to fill in the void he left at both the Flower Show and at the Members’ Plant Dividend,” says Deb. This year, Deb donated 90 plants to the popular Dividend that is a benefit for PHS members.
As Deb’s entries in the Show have grown, so has her enthusiasm and group of helpers. Team Donaldson, a group of 12 to 15 close friends and their husbands, load, transport, and unload approximately 500 plants yearly at the Flower Show, depending on the weather. In 2018, she plowed roads at 3:30 a.m. to get her precious plant cargo to the Show on time. “We get together throughout the year -- it’s a marvelous effect of our passion for the Flower Show,” she says.
With the self-described energy of 10 people, Deb cares for approximately 600 plants inside her Malvern home and attached greenhouse, as well as three rescue dogs, and four acres of lawn and gardens. She spends an average of 20 to 40 hours with the plants and taking care of the property. “Plants can be very fragile. There’s something special about container plants. A plant does not grow in a container naturally, so when you grow in a container, the plant presents more challenges. It’s very satisfying. You need to try many different techniques to make a plant thrive.”
Today, Deb is a champion in her own right serving on the Flower Show and Events Committee and a three-time winner of the Hamilton Greenhouse Award at the Philadelphia Flower Show. She and her husband John serve on the Preview Party Committee. Deb was awarded Full Horticulture Judge Status by the Garden Club of America, a process that took more than five years, and now judges horticulture classes at club garden shows for the Garden Club of America shows three to five times a year. When she spots a quality plant, she will seek out the owner and encourage them to enter the Philadelphia Flower Show. She also participates in a judging panel every year at the Show for the Philadelphia Cactus & Succulent Society.
Deb is committed to helping others getting started. She lectured once this year about succulents at Longwood Gardens, and lectures a class, “How to enter the Philadelphia Flower Show,” at different locations, including PHS Meadowbrook Farm and Valley Forge Flowers. She opens her house to local garden clubs, and everyone leaves with a succulent she has propagated. “PHS is the number one organization my husband and I support. It’s important to give back and people have been so kind and encouraging to me.”
PHS Development and Awards Committees Chair
Posted on September 5, 2018
Julia Fisher started her career in law before moving into private banking, a job which required her to travel much of the time. In 2018, Julia retired as a Managing Director/Wealth Advisor for JP Morgan Chase & Co. and was able to turn her energies full time to her varied interests and creative pursuits.
When asked about how she first became involved with PHS, Julia explained, “I first got involved probably in the mid-2000s. The thing that really got me involved [with PHS] was City Harvest and the Roots to Reentry program,” she says, referring to the food security and job training programs.
“I’ve been involved with PHS for a long time and I’m really looking forward to the future with Matt Rader and the team.”
An excellent home gardener and avid traveler, Julia’s horticultural knowledge was honed by many PHS trips to visit gardens around the world, including numerous visits to England with PHS past president Jane Pepper, a close friend. Julia enjoys growing shrubbery in her intimate home garden. When asked why she gardens, she said "I am inspired to garden because I enjoy spending time outside."
As a member of the 1827 Society, Julia supports PHS’s mission to connect people with horticulture and create positive impact in communities. “I’m motivated to stay involved with PHS because of the multifaceted ways that PHS engages with people in the city…bringing people together to find beauty through horticulture. I give to PHS because it’s my investment in the things I care about,” she says.
“Every year there are a thousand needs in our region, and of those that PHS can have an impact on, the organization is willing to try different ways to achieve that…reaching out and embracing change.”
Julia is currently chair of the PHS Development Committee and serves as the PHS Awards Committee co-chair.