COLUMN: Remember When: History of Andalusia garden clubs

Published 2:00 pm Friday, April 26, 2024

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The first written mention of garden clubs in Andalusia was penned in The Andalusia Star, March and April 1917 editions. “The Andalusia Garden Club boys held an enthusiastic meeting Saturday. This club organized March 1, 1917 is composed of East Three Notch Street and Pleasant Hill boys from 4 to 16 years of age. The object of this club is to beautify vacant lots on East Three Notch Street and Pleasant Hill (Montgomery Street area back then). Mrs. T. E. Henderson was the leader of these husky youngsters.”

Other newspaper stories in the early 1900s regarding the beautification of Andalusia with improvement in the appearance of grounds, driveways, and yards pertained to the Magnolia Cemetery. “Graves have been filled, driveways and walks improved, the street leading to the cemetery has been badly washed by recent rains was repaired. The number to respond to the request by the Civic Improvement Club was not as large as expected but some made contributions. Mayor Gillis sent the street force. Credit for much of the work accomplished is due Mrs. Burnett who has worked untiringly for several years keeping up scores of graves in which people are buried who have no relatives or friends and who are tended to by the Civic Improvement Club.”

In 1924 an editorial read, “It should be the aim of every one to strive to beautify the town, this beautiful little city here in the very dimple of the Wiregrass….…in the matter of residences and the harmony of the shrubbery and the flowers planted in lawns. No one should yield to the temptation to mar her beauty.”

In 1929, a National Council of State Garden Clubs was organized to coordinate garden clubs throughout the country. The first state Federation of Garden Clubs was formed in New York State with 24 clubs as charter members.

However, the Ladies Garden Club of Athens, Georgia was the first chartered garden club in America in 1891.

This was information from the October 15, 1959 Andalusia Star News.  An article appeared – “History of Floral Arrangements Told Fleur de Lis Garden Club” by Mrs. Raymond Parrish.

In 1913 The Andalusia Star reported, “This newspaper claims  that Andalusia is the ‘garden spot of South Alabama’ even though Brewton has had that distinction these many years. What’s the matter with having two ‘garden spots?’ There’s room enough.”

By 1931, a January news article reported, “Garden Club chairmen have been named for each of the four wards of the City of Andalusia.” These included, Mrs. Parnell Lewis, Ward One; Mrs. Walter Davis, Ward Two; Mrs. Theodore Wrenn, Ward Three: and Miss Maggie Mae Robinson, Ward Four.

“It is hoped that every home-maker in the city will unite with her club in her own yard. The chairmen will call at an early date a meeting of the ladies in each ward with a view to forming the organization and naming each club. Each club will be named by its members and the purpose is of course to promote an interest in all that makes for a more beautiful Andalusia. The

outstanding feature toward which the garden club ladies are looking with interest is the proposed flower show which is to be staged in Andalusia in the early fall.”

In February 1931, a call meeting of the garden club of Ward One was held at the home of Chairman Mrs. T. E. Henderson for the purpose of selecting a name for the club and announcing the various committees. The name chosen was Lemoine. It is quite interesting to know why that name was selected. The greatest plant breeder of ornamental plants is Victor Lemoine. Wherever there are flowers in gardens, according to Professor Bell of Cornell University, there also is the unseen influence of Lemoine who is responsible for the first double lilac as well as the present day peony, the geranium, the phlox, the gladiola, and many other flowers blooming in their glory today because of him.

Other wards met in the spring of 1931 and by May, the names of the four garden clubs had been chosen – the Lemoine, the Rose Garden Club, the Iris Garden Club, and the Happy Hour Garden Club.

Over the next years of the 1930s, much publicity was afforded the garden club ladies. They met in the homes of such ladies as Mrs. B. L. Timmerman, Mrs. John F. Carson at her home on Pleasant Hill, Mrs. T. A. Patrick, Mrs. A. C. Darling, Sr., Mrs. Jessie Battle, Mrs. J. V. Henderson, Mrs. Richard Kearley, Mrs. W. R. Wright, Mrs. L. E. Brown, Mrs. W. F. Simmons, Mrs. George Etheridge, Mrs. Hiram Brogden, Mrs. C. J. Ward, Mrs. T. W. Hand, Mrs. J. J. Moates, Mrs. Perkins Taylor, Mrs. Charles Brunson, and Mrs. Oscar Duggar.  They also met in the O’Neal building, the Milligan building, and the courthouse.

When the Library Association desired the public to see the attractive new quarters for the library, the clubs of the city exhibited beautiful arrangements of chrysanthemums, dahlias, and roses despite the drought.

A fall flower show was planned. Twelve member of the Iris Garden Club answered roll with the name of the flower they would have to exhibit for the show. All four garden clubs met in September 1931 to discuss rules governing the Fall Flower Show. The points to be considered were table arrangement, originality, color, distinction, proportion, charm, and beauty. Judges from Montgomery were invited.

The Happy Hour Garden Club’s sixteen members voted to uses the monies derived from the prizes at the Spring Flower Show to buy shrubs for the courthouse. The show sponsored by the four clubs was a “leap in the dark” it was said, but each club’s ingenuity was displayed in arrangements in the booths at the O’Neal building. Mrs. J. S. Burnett who visited Magnolia and Middleton Gardens near Charleston, S. C. gave an interesting talk on these gardens. The club collect was read by the four club presidents after which roll call was answered by giving the names of flowers, trees, shrubs, and birds. More than one hundred fifty gentlemen and ladies were visitors to the exhibit. Mrs. C. S. O’Neal was thanked for the use of the building.

By October 1931 the Happy Hour Garden Club had sixty members.

The four clubs met in October 1931 at the Presbyterian Church with a speaker from Montgomery to talk about “Bulbs the Year Round.”

The Fall flower exhibit was staged at the formal opening of the library in the Milligan building with the Library Association serving as hostesses. The Library room was a picture of loveliness with tastefully arranged decorations of autumn leaves and berries over the book cases. Many baskets held arrangements grown by club members to deliver to the hospital after the event. White, bronze, yellow chrysanthemums along with roses, hydrangeas, water lilies, and African daisies were among the flowers on exhibit.

During that early year of the organization of the garden clubs in Andalusia, there was much interest in a “clean-up week” that they sponsored for “community betterment for all that inspires and helps in a civics and cultural way.” It was called Garden Club Week.

The 2nd annual Fall Flower Show was held in the Studstill-Mathews Motor Company show room. Mrs. J. S. Burnett’s stately palms lent dignity to the decorations. It is estimated that between four and five hundred people visited the flower show. Mr. J. V. Henderson was thanked for the use of the building along and for his unfailing courtesy.

In November 1932 the Happy Hour Garden Club’s theme for the year was a “Garden Tour of the World.” Various speakers presented programs on the gardens of England, Holland, Italy, Spain, France and the Philippines. Baptist pastor Dr. Jesse Cook spoke on the gardens of Palestine. A local garden tour was arranged for the spring, a picnic in the summer, a study of wild flowers, and a garden tea for the city teachers composed the outstanding plans for the club.

By the late 1930s, other garden clubs were formed. Club programs were reported each week on the society pages of The Andalusia Star. These included the Southside Garden Club and the Hortamantes Garden Club. Many interesting program titles included “Wild Flowers of Alabama,” “The Flowers I Saw in the West,” “Palaces and Gardens of Europe,” “The Proper Container for Cut Flowers,” “Community and Individual Gardening for Juniors,” “Landscaping the Small Home,” and “Tricks the Florist Taught Me.”

Even in 1939, newspaper editors such as Oscar Dugger, Jr. wrote, “It seems to me the state could well afford to adopt the azalea as its state flower in place of the goldenrod.” It took another 10 years for the goldenrod to be replaced as the state flower by the camellia, thanks to the Greenville ladies.

In May 1939, the Hortamantes Garden Club sponsored the “first annual garden tour of Andalusia gardens.” The public was invited to inspect these gardens at any house during the day of May 12.

In July 1939, another garden club for the women of Andalusia was organized by the members of the Southside and Hortamantes Garden Clubs. The meeting was held at the St. Peters Baptist Church with 11 charter members present. The name chosen was the Petunia Garden Club. The club made plans to buy seeds and bulbs to landscape the ground of the school and churches.

Moving into the 1940s, the March 6, 1941 The Andalusia Star reported, “Thirty-three members of the newest garden club met at the East Three Notch grammar school on Tuesday February 27th. The president Mrs. Raymond Shreve presided. The name submitted by the committee ‘El Martes’ which is Spanish for ‘meet on Tuesday’ was unanimously adopted. The committee consisted of Mesdames Byron Hair, Frank Mizell, Clifford Cook, and Joe Jones. They adopted the gladiola as the club flower.

In April more than 40 garden club women gathered in the Rotary Hall of the Coca Cola building (on Troy Street) to see a series of pictures on flower arrangements in color with soft music which held the spectators enraptured during the showing. Mr. Joe Hilson, manager of the Coca Cola Company, welcomed the club members.

May 1, 1941 – “The three garden clubs of Andalusia, Hortamantes, Southside, and El Martes, will display their garlands of flowers assembled from the gardens of Andalusia for all lovers of the beautiful to see at this their annual flower show staged at First Methodist Church.”

September 11, 1941 – “The El Martes Garden Club so newly  organized yet off to an excellent start, met at the home of Mrs. D. D. Chapman. 19 enthusiastic members answered the roll. This club was organized for all interested gardeners on the East side of our city, and the club extends a sincere invitation to those who are recent comers to our city and to all residents who could not join before now.”

February 14, 1946“Mrs. Robert Anderson’s lovely home was the scene of an interesting meeting of the El Martes Garden Club. Many arrangements of camellias were displayed with Mrs. Hill Guy’s herme outstanding. The club voted $10. to the beautification project of the courthouse grounds and will sponsor a camellia show in the Baracca Hall (on Crescent Street) on Friday. Two flower riddle contests were enjoyed. Mrs. Joe Pless and Mrs. T. E. Henderson tied. Each was presented a pink perfection camellia corsage.”

January 15, 1948 – “At the January meeting of the El Martes Garden Club, Mrs. R. B. Anderson and Mrs. Allen Cook were appointed to the committee to canvass the town in a dogwood planting project.”

Moving ahead to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, garden club activities were steady. After LBW College was established in the late 1960s, the LBW Scenic Trail that is sometimes called the “Nature Trail” was constructed in the late 1970s. The trail encircles the 152-acre campus and is approximately 2 miles long. The local garden clubs and several individuals helped to develop designated areas along the trail with flowers and shrubs. These include La Flora, El Martes, Hemerocallis, La Rosa, Fleur de Lis, Carrene Floyd, and Pat and Lou Brown. Birdhouses were also built along the trail.

Somewhere along the way, this may have been forgotten, but Mayor J. G. Scherf and the city council in the 1940s adopted an ordinance making Andalusia a “bird sanctuary.” In 1944 at the club’s pre-Easter program, Mayor Scherf presented 400 copies of the ordinance to the Hortamantes Garden Club for distribution among the school boys. At the presentation, “An Easter Botany” was recited which is summarized as follows: “Of all the faithful hearts of Christendom, in the beauty of the lilies, none is more faithful than a gardener’s heart.”

By 1959 when the Camellia became the Alabama State Flower, Andalusians followed the lead of Alabamians who planted Camellia bushes in their yards. A Men’s Camellia Club hosted several Camellia flower shows. Dr. William G. King was one of the early club presidents.

In April 2023, at the request of college president Brock Kelley and the City of Andalusia, the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College scenic nature trail was officially named the Barbara Lucas McClain Community Trail. A plaque placed in her honor along with brick pillars and an archway at the entrance commemorated her philanthropic spirit.

Andalusia can be proud that community beautification was part of the city’s history beginning after the turn of the century when the little town was not much more than a village.  The garden club ladies of each decade promoted the establishment of flowers and landscaping in the residential yards of each home and in the public places. That trend continues today with interested city officials, homeowners, and business owners who recognize the importance of beautification.

Only one garden club remains active today, the El Martes. Their members requested the researching and compiling of this garden club history.  The Mrs. Burnetts, Hendersons, Chapmans, Taylors, Patricks, Moates, Shreves, Darlings, Kearleys, Simmons, Robinsons, Brunsons, Wards, and Carsons of yesterday’s flower and garden enthusiasts would be proud that we Remember When

— Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a former K-12 choral music teacher and local real estate broker. She is a long-time member of the Covington Historical Society and can be reached at