History of the Watkinsville Garden Club
Lois C. Kraeling
This history of the Watkinsville Garden Club won a Second Place Award from the Garden Club of Georgia in 2016-2017.
World War II
In early February 1940, Mr. Ellis Garrett, a vocational teacher at the Oconee County High School was interested in forming a garden club. He and his wife attended a meeting of the Ladies Garden Club of Athens to solicit guidance in organizing a Watkinsville Garden Club. Mrs. Burney Hale, Mrs. Dave Weatherford, Mrs. A. C. Camp, and Mrs. Hussey Downs from Watkinsville also attended this meeting. The first Organizational Meeting of the Watkinsville Garden Club (WGC) was held at the Home Economics Department at the Oconee County High School on February 19, 1940 and the first meeting of the WGC was on March 1, 1940. There were 15 charter members. Dues were $1.00 per year. The WGC became affiliated with the State Garden Club in March, 1941 and the Constitution and By Laws of the WGC was printed in the Oconee Enterprise on June 14, 1941.
In 1942, Mrs. Herbert Breedlove, President, stated, “On account of the war situation, we will depend locally on our interest and certainly, we have enough within ourselves, to have a flourishing Club, for England carried on…..certainly we will not do less.” The WGC sponsored a Victory Garden Club Program, “Each family will provide for themselves; thereby releasing much for our armed forces and nation looking to us for food. We are expecting it to be “shame on you” not to be able to show your friends a garden a continuous year round garden this year.” Mr. Fletcher P. Crown from Rich’s Garden Shop in Atlanta was the February 1943 speaker. He stated, “Rationing is coming and Victory Gardens are the most vital and patriotic movement for our country at this time.” He insisted that each and every woman keep a record of her garden as to cost, value and quantity received for it for the entire year of 1943. Because of gas rationing, the WGC met at the Courthouse instead of Mrs. Breedlove’s home.
Since 2012, the WGC has met at 10:00 am on the first Thursday in September through June at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church. Before 2012, the WGC met for many years at Union Christian Church. Both churches graciously provide the meeting space at no charge. Over the last 75 years the numerous activities and projects of the WGC have supported the National Garden Club, Deep South Region and State projects and the mission of the Garden Club of Georgia, which is “Beautification, conservation and education.”
The Watkinsville Cemetery is the first official long-term project initiated in 1941. The Watkinsville City Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Oconee County. The earliest grave there is dated 1811 and the cemetery is the resting place of Confederate Civil War veterans. A Methodist church originally owned the cemetery property in the early 1800s, but the church burned down in the 1820s and was never rebuilt. The city acquired the cemetery in 1837 and sold plots to families in the area, but in 1979, declared it to be privately owned by everyone who had plots in it, though the city government agreed to clean it up periodically with donations. The goal of the WGC was to provide perpetual care for the Cemetery. The cemetery is a Watkinsville landmark, but from time to time, some of the burial plots were neglected and unsightly when there were no longer concerned family members or friends to tend to the cemetery plots. Thus, burial plots were cleaned up and Dogwoods and Crepe Myrtles were planted by the WGC in front of the cemetery. The WGC convinced the Watkinsville Mayor and Town Council to adopt a legal agreement "for any funds donated to any cemetery within the limits of said municipality…..and do hereby set up a trust fund to be known as the “Town of Watkinsville Cemetery Fund.” This fund is maintained at the Oconee State Bank. The WGC continues to make a $100.00 donation annually to the Watkinsville Cemetery Fund.
Annual Flower Shows, 1940 through 1988, were big yearly projects during this time period. Flower arrangement workshops were held to teach club members the importance of beautifying their homes, churches and businesses with fresh flowers from members’ gardens. First, second and third place winners were selected. In addition, the WGC sponsored an annual Christmas Doorway Decoration Contest. However, no spring flower show was held in 1943 “because many of the Garden Club will be busy assisting with the Tonsil Clinic.”
In 1947, the Harris Shoals Park, which was formerly Harris Shoals picnic grounds, was selected as another long-term project. Tables, benches and playground equipment were donated by civic clubs, organizations, and private sponsors. The WGC beautified the grounds by planting flowering shrubs, trees and flowers. On September 26, 1947, the WGC sponsored a BBQ and formal dedication ceremony. Georgia Governor, M. E. Thompson, was the guest speaker and Mayor Monroe Butler was presented the deed to this historic acreage, which was a gift from Dr. Herschel B. Harris of Athens. Swings and see saws were added to the park in 1948.
The first WGC Yearbook was placed in the 1949 WGC Scrapbook.
The WGC sponsored landscaping of the Health Center and churches under the direction of Mr. Thomas Williams of the University of Georgia in 1952. Unfortunately, records were incomplete in the 1960s and most of the records for 1968 – 1972 were destroyed in a fire.
The Eagle Tavern, which included a blockhouse for defense against Indian attacks, was built in 1789. Eagle Tavern was the center of much social life in this area in the pre-civil war period. In 1801, The Augusta Chronicle reported that a committee met at “Billups Tavern” (owned by John Billups), in the lower end of Jackson County to begin planning the University of Georgia. At that time, Watkinsville was part of Jackson County. Athens was selected as the site for the University because “Watkinsville served beer and wine,” which the founders believed would be a bad influence on the students. The WGC planted flowers and native trees at the Eagle Tavern and had many beautification projects around Oconee County throughout 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, including a mini-garden center which was moved to the old Oconee County Library in 1963.
The WGC raised $5,000 at the first Oconee County Fall Festival in 1976 and contributed the entire amount to the Library Fund. In 1977, the WGC donated and planted a Bradford Pear Tree in front of the new Oconee County Library with help from the Oconee 4H Club. The WGC funded a “Study Room” at the Library in 1994, which was formally dedicated in 1998. A plaque on the wall adjacent to the room recognizes the WGC for its contribution. In addition, the mini-garden center in the Library is maintained by the WGC. The landscaping in front of the Library was renovated in 2014. The new landscape was designed and installed under the leadership of WGC member, Jane Bath. Dead plants were removed and remaining plants rearranged. Among the new plants installed were Deciduous Azaleas, Stokesia, Hypericum, Fothergilla, new varieties of Red Bud, Pee Gee Hydrangea, Beauty Berry, Yaupon Holly 'Cranberry' and Japanese Maple 'Osakazuki'; plants that needed little or no pruning and with enough evergreens to pull the design through winter.
The WGC planted and maintained a flower bed in the island at Highway 53 and 441 Junction beginning in 1980. This project continued for many years with help and contributions from the whole club until the island in the intersection was covered with concrete.
The WGC has participated in the Garden Therapy Project since 1982. After every February meeting, the WGC provides fresh cut flowers and helps residents of the High Shoals Health and Rehabilitation Nursing Home (formerly the Family Life Enrichment Center) in High Shoals, GA make floral valentine arrangements for their dining room tables. This activity is repeated to commemorate Mothers Day after the May meeting.
In addition, the WGC contributes funds to the state Garden Therapy program. As part of the Garden Therapy Project, small decorated Christmas stockings hand-made by members of the WGC and containing $1.00 were donated to patients of the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville until the Hospital closed in 2013.
The WGC also participated in the Fig Leaf Project by donating socks and underwear to patients of the Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Since the State Hospital in Milledgeville closed in 2013, the Christmas Stockings have been donated to residents of the High Shoals Health and Rehabilitation Nursing Home and the socks and underwear of the Fig Leaf Project have been donated to ACTS (Area Churches Serving Together) headquartered in Bogart, GA. Ninety-six Christmas Stockings, 75 pairs of socks and 40 packages of underwear were donated in 2015.
Elder Mill Covered Bridge is one of only 13 covered bridges still standing in Georgia. Erected in 1897 by Nathaniel Richard, the bridge originally crossed over Calls Creek between Athens and Watkinsville. It was relocated over Big Rose Creek south of Watkinsville off Georgia Highway 15 in 1924. The WGC in partnership with the Oconee County Government established a small park with shrubs and perennial flowers in 1991. The WGC still maintains the park. On May 26, 1994, Elder Mill Covered Bridge was added to National Register of Historic Places. A sign in front of the park indicates that the WGC planted and maintains the garden.
At the recommendation of the WGC, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners adopted the Shasta daisy as the official Oconee County flower in 1990 and the Eastern Redbud as the official Oconee County tree in 1991, and the Watkinsville City Council adopted the Daylily as the official flower in 1990.
The New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs began the Blue Star Memorial Program by planting 1,000 Dogwood trees along 5 miles of highway as a living memorial to veterans of World War II in 1944. The Blue Star was placed on flags and banners in homes, churches and businesses for sons and daughters away in WW II. In 1945, the National Council of State Garden Clubs began a Blue Star Highway system, which covers thousands of miles across the Continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. A large metal Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker was placed at appropriate locations along the way. The program was expanded to include all men and women who had served, were serving or would serve in the armed services of the United States in 1951.
On August 19, 1990, a Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker was installed on the grounds in front of the Bethabara Baptist Church near the intersection of GA route 53 and US route 78. The ceremonies were attended by Officials of the Azalea District of the Garden Club of Georgia, the Garden Club of Georgia and State of Georgia. The section of US 78 from Watkinsville to Athens was named “The Moina Michael Memorial Highway (US 78). Moina Michael was a Georgia native and teacher who created the emblem of Remembrance of deceased war veterans using the red Flanders poppy in 1918. She campaigned for the next 26 years to have this emblem recognized by governments, veteran agencies and the public. She became affectionately known as “the Poppy Lady.”
A cookbook containing recipes contributed by WGC members was printed 1994. Seven hundred copies were sold and the proceeds were contributed to: the Sundial for the Oconee County Civic Center, Study Room at the Oconee Library and improvements to Harris Shoals Park and Herman C. Michael Park.
Vivian Mundy, a retired University of Georgia horticulture professor who loved plants and flowers, died in June 1995 following an assault in her Watkinsville home. The city memorialized Vivian Munday by dedicating a garden in her name at Harris Shoals Park. The WGC maintained the Vivian Munday Memorial Garden until 2011 when the Clean and Beautiful Commission took over this responsibility.
A white oak was planted in memory of Louisa Whitehead Lee, who was a member of the WGC, at Harris Shoals Park in 1996. The WGC cleaned the area, reconditioned the soil and planted four raised beds behind the Watkinsville Town Hall at Harris Shoals Park in 2015. This area was designated a teaching area for the many visitors to the Park.
The 63 acre Breedlove Farm off Colham Ferry Road in Oconee County is the first farm protected by Greenspace funds in the State of Georgia. It will forever remain a “farm” under an agreement with Georgia Greenspace Program, the US Department of Agriculture and the Athens Land Trust. Funds contributed to the Athens Land Trust by the WGC supports this program.
The WGC began a Memory Garden to honor the deceased members of our club at Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville and to also enhance the park in 1998. Camellias were selected for their year-round beauty whether or not they are in bloom. Twelve camellias were planted and the garden was dedicated. A camellia is planted each time a member of the WGC passes away. The cost of this project was funded by the proceeds of the spring plant sale and Christmas auction. A permanent granite marker was installed in 2009.
The first documentation of a Junior Garden Club appeared in the Scrapbooks in the summer of 1990. Junior Garden Club members planted flowers at the Oconee County Library with help from our senior members. The Junior Garden Club also helped maintain the Vivian Mundy Memorial Garden, Watkinsville City Hall, and Elder Mill Covered Bridge. The Junior Garden Club was not active after 1999. However, WGC members, Kate and Walter George, Peggy Boggan and Virginia Wells led the establishment of a Junior Garden Club for 3rd and 4th Graders from Oconee County in the fall of 2007. Meetings were first held in the County Extension Agent’s Office and then moved to the Watkinsville Community Center. The WGC built seven raised beds behind the Watkinsville Town Hall. In 2008, the Junior Garden Club potted 200 native tree seedlings, cared for them over the winter and summer and sold them at the Oconee County Fall Festival and Spring Plant Sale. WGC members Al Rother and Peggy Boggan continued to lead the Junior Garden Club after Kate and Walter George moved away from the county.
Junior Garden Clubs were being formed in several elementary schools in Oconee County, therefore the WGC began assisting Mrs. Shawna McGrath’s 3rd grade “Gardening with a Purpose Club” at Rocky Branch Elementary School in 2013. Members of the WGC built 12 raised beds. Native Beech trees, which were donated by a member of the WGC, were planted. Not only is the WGC reaching more children (20 new students every 6 weeks), we have involved more of our membership. In addition, Ms. McGrath conducts a cooking class with students who use the produce from the vegetable garden to prepare casseroles for 5 needy families. This is an on-going and expanding program. Mrs. Shawna McGrath, a WGC member, was named Oconee County Teacher of the year in 2015. The WGC is proud to be a part of this wonderful project of education and community outreach.
Since 2007, WGC members, Shirley McCorkle and Judy Morrow, have worked with Oconee County grade schools to encourage first through fifth grade students to enter the Smokey Bear/Woodsy Owl Poster Contest. Students are invited to demonstrate their understanding of fire prevention and basic environmental conservation principles through original drawings of Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl. Smokey Bear posters must be based on and include Smokey’s fire prevention message “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires!” and Woodsy Owl Posters must be based on and include Woodsy’s conservation message: “Lend a Hand – Care for the Land!” Each winner receives a certificate and cash award.
Also in 2007, the WGC began collecting pull tabs on soda, soup or other aluminum cans to help support the Ronald McDonald House. The funds generated from recycling them help offset the House's expenses. A Ronald McDonald House is a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little or no cost. By staying at a Ronald McDonald House, parents can better communicate with their child’s medical team and keep up with complicated treatment plans when needed. They can focus on the health of their child, rather than grocery shopping, cleaning or cooking meals. Families can enjoy home-cooked meals, private bedrooms, and playrooms for children at every house.
Ellen Vaughn Recognition Day, held on June 5, 2008, was attended by WGC members, as well as Ellen’s family and friends. A Native Oglethorpe Oak tree was planted in her honor on the grounds of Union Christian Church off Hog Mountain Road. Ellen had a profound and positive impact on the WGC, the Garden Club of Georgia and the community. Ellen was born Leah Ellen Thompson in 1918 in Comer, GA. She served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946. She started and was President of Unit #139, Cherokee Rose of the WAVES. She faithfully attended meetings in Atlanta and retreats to Mobile, AL, Helen, GA, and Memphis, TN. Ellen was employed by Eastern Airlines from 1946 until 1959 when she married Ernest Vernon Vaughn and moved to Watkinsville. They were married for almost 29 years when Vernon passed away in 1988. She joined the WGC in 1971. She held numerous offices and committee chairmanships and committee assignments and spearheaded numerous projects until she could no longer attend WGC meetings. Most notably, Ellen was president seven times between 1976 and 2002 and parliamentarian from 2006 to 2012. She was a member of the Azalea District Board from 1991 to 2012 and a “Life Member of Garden Club of Georgia.” Ellen passed away on Monday, October 15, 2012.
Since 2012, the WGC has commemorated Georgia Garden Week in April and National Garden Week in June by maintaining fresh flower arrangements distributing brochures throughout the week at local businesses and community centers. In addition, National Garden Week is celebrated at the June meeting of the WGC with a special Tea Party. Members wear fancy hats and other apparel. The 2014 Tea Party was held at the Founder’s Garden at the University of Georgia to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Founder’s Garden. The 2015 Tea Party was held at member Jane Bath’s formal gardens and home.
In 2013, WGC member Judy Cantrell, presented a video tour of the Royal Horticulture Society Chelsea Flower Show entitled, “One Hundred Years of the Royal Horticulture Society Chelsea Flower Show” to members of the whole community at the Oconee Library. Judy visited the famous gardens in Wisley, Great Dexter, and other gardens in Kent and the Cotswolds and the British Garden Tour in May.
Since 2013, the WGC has donated two scholarships each year to the "Wild and Wonderful Experience" camp. Each July, the Garden Club of Georgia teams up with the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, GA for the "Wild and Wonderful Experience" camp. Garden Club of Georgia Youth Members who are rising 5th or 6th graders are invited to spend three days learning about nature, wildlife conservation and environmental issues. Among the many fun and exciting programs are fishing, outdoor recreation, night hiking, attracting birds and butterflies and guest speakers.
WGC member, Vivian Claire Ward deeded her 83 acre farm off Highway 15 to the Oconee River Resource Conservation and Development Council (Oconee River RC & DC) in 1992 to preserve and enhance it so that future generations have a place to experience nature. The property, located just outside the city limits of Watkinsville, was designated the David Henry Hardigree Wildlife Sanctuary and Research Center in memory of Vivian Ward’s grandfather. An additional five acres were purchased by the Oconee River RC & DC to improve access, bringing the total size to 88 acres. The WGC purchased a Lifetime Membership to the Henry David Hardigree Wildlife Sanctuary. WGC member, Janice Marable, serves on the Oconee River RC & DC. The WGC took on the Sanctuary as a new long-term project in 2015. WGC new Master Gardeners are committed to designing and installing a landscaped entrance to the Sanctuary.
On a historical note, Jeanette Rankin was the speaker at the March, 1949 meeting of the WGC. She spoke about “Women and their importance in the world.” Jeanette Rankin was from Montana and the first woman elected to Congress in 1916. She was a suffragist, peace activist, and activist for women’s rights. She moved to a farm in Watkinsville after WW I, but returned to Montana every summer, which was her legal residence. A historic marker is located on Mars Hill Rd. near her round house.