From its earliest days, The Garden Club of Jackson has demonstrated a strong commitment to horticulture, flower arranging, conservation and civic improvement. Mary Sydney Green, a member of the Little Garden Club of Rye, New York, moved back to her hometown of Jackson in 1988, cognizant of the impact that garden clubs can have on their communities. She founded the Garden Club of Jackson in 1991, with eleven members interested in gardening, artistic floral expression, civic enhancement and learning. Well aware of the mission and high standards of The Garden Club of America, Mary Sydney made sure that the Jackson club operated in line with the same objectives.
The first meeting of The Garden Club of Jackson was held in 1991 in Mary Sydney Green’s home, with mentor Eleanor Green of Laurel in attendance. During the year the club traveled to the Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Mississippi, for a tour conducted by Lynn Crosby Gammill,. This trip set in motion the club’s commitment to conservation of natural areas and resources and its interest in the study and exploration of horticulture.
The club held an in-club flower show in 1993, and Denny Bellingrath of Little Rock, Arkansas, presented a club program on horticulture during that year. She addressed club members about the importance of horticulture, encouraging members to take small steps in their horticultural efforts, but by all means to get started learning about this fascinating topic. Thus began the club’s emphasis on propagation and studying individual gardens.
In 1993, the club adopted the Hinds County Courthouse as a project, cleaning up the grounds and installing plant material. Noted architect Bob Canizaro presented a club program about the Art Deco courthouse, and landscaping was designed to complement the building’s architecture, indicative of the club’s interest in relating horticulture to historic preservation. Also in 1993, Lois Hammet, a flower arranger and horticulturalist from the Paducah Garden Club, presented a club program.
The Garden Club of Jackson Conservation Committee was formed in 1994, chaired for many years by Patsy Langford, who organized a conservation program each year and worked to raise members’ awareness of the need for conservation of natural resources. This development led to the club’s interest and involvement in recycling efforts in the metro Jackson area.
The club traveled to Laurel, Mississippi in 1995 for a tour of the nationally recognized Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and its Anne Reeder Garden, with lunch and a garden tour at the lovely home of Eleanor Green, who was following the club’s progress with interest. Club members also toured the Madison County home and garden of club member Miriam Ethridge, which had been selected for the prestigious Madison County Home and Garden Tour.
The club’s first fund-raiser, “Floraison,” was held in 1996 with two speakers, one from New York City, who addressed flower arranging, and one from Lyon, France, who spoke about roses. The club used net profits of almost $7000 to improve Mynelle Gardens, a lush municipal garden featuring seven acres of pathways, ponds, and reflecting pools owned by the city of Jackson. One of the first projects adopted by The Garden Club of Jackson, Mynelle Gardens has remained a central focus of the club. Known for its beautiful expanse of color in early April when azaleas, bulbs, and flowering trees spill blossoms over walking paths and bridges, the garden provides a rare moment of tranquility in a busy city.
The involvement of The Garden Club of Jackson led to the establishment of the Mynelle Gardens Botanical Society, which raises and allocates funds for the garden’s upkeep. Today, The Garden Club of Jackson continues to focus significant attention on Mynelle Gardens and its programs. Other highlights of 1996 included a club program on flower arranging, a field trip to Monteigne, home of Pilgrimage Garden Club member Mary Louise Shields, and a program on recycling by Alice Perry, manager of the Solid Waste Division for the City of Jackson.
The club began a long-standing association with Habitat for Humanity in 1997, assisting with the group’s Birdhouse Day at Northpark Mall. Club members made food and sold birdhouses to benefit the organization. Conservation was a major focus that year, as the club sponsored a dinner lecture with the Nature Conservancy featuring Dr. Robert Marston, who spoke about protecting Gulf Coast waters. Club members created centerpieces that explored the themes of earth and water for each table.
In 1999, the club toured Porter’s Creek Herb Farm in Terry, Mississippi and created floral arrangements for National Symphony Orchestra guests in Jackson. The club also contributed to the Mississippi Museum of Art, helping install a sprinkler system and creating a garden at the entrance of the museum.
The year 2000 was a particularly busy one for The Garden Club of Jackson. A fund-raiser featuring Libbey Oliver benefitted Mynelle Gardens. Garden Club of Jackson member Tay Gillespie welcomed the group to the Strong River Camp and Farm in Pinola, Mississippi, a picturesque riverside encampment that has provided a heart-warming summer camp experience – accented by site-grown delicious fresh fruits and vegetables – for generations of Mississippi children. Mary Sydney Green formed the Conservation Study Group for in-depth exploration of environmental issues facing Jackson, and Carolyn Ruth Stancill of the Laurel Garden Club began mentoring the Jackson club, with an eye toward proposing the club for membership in The Garden Club of America.
Also in 2000, club members brought home-grown flowers for a program titled “Arranging Flowers from Your Garden” and held a fall flower show with horticulture and design classes. Members landscaped a Habitat for Humanity home in Jackson and made a financial contribution to allow the organization to purchase bulbs to plant at Habitat homes throughout the city.
In 2002 “Floraison III” benefitted Mynelle Gardens, and club members held an in-club flower show featuring tablescapes.
The club’s Spring Garden Tour debuted in 2003. Despite torrential rains, the tour of significant gardens in the Jackson area was a success, raising funds for Mynelle Gardens. Also in 2003, club members landscaped two Habitat for Humanity homes and attended a club program presented by internationally recognized floral designer Ralph Null.
The 2004 Spring House and Garden Tour, thankfully with better weather, saw increased crowds with profits benefitting the Eudora Welty Garden in Jackson. Now owned by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the home and garden of this Pulitzer Prize-winning author have been carefully restored and are now open to the public. Garden Club of Jackson members have not only provided financial support but have also performed hands-on gardening tasks and continue to volunteer on a regular basis at the historic garden.
The 2005 Spring House and Garden Tour added lunch; weather and profits were outstanding and benefitted The Oaks. One of Jackson’s historical landmarks, this cottage is one of the city’s oldest structures. Contributions from the Garden Club of Jackson allowed The Oaks to involve a landscape architect who specializes in historical restorations to ensure that the restoration would replicate the original state of the garden, once again demonstrating the club’s commitment to historical preservation.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused significant damage to Mynelle Gardens, still a cornerstone of The Garden Club of Jackson’s civic involvement. A very successful Spring House and Garden Tour in 2006 raised approximately $10,000 to help restore this important garden, featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as one of four significant municipal gardens in the South. In February, club members entertained GCA Zone IX dignitaries with a beautifully appointed cocktail party at the home of club President Joanne Cheek, including a tour of her Phillip Watson-designed garden, and welcomed the GCA representatives to the club’s meeting the next morning.
This brief history of The Garden Club of Jackson is a tapestry of horticulture, flower arranging, conservation, historic preservation, landscape design, and civic involvement. The club has clearly made a difference in Jackson through its financial support and hands-on involvement with significant public gardens and Habitat for Humanity landscapes. Additionally, members are involved in their own gardens, many of which have historical and horticultural significance and have been featured on tours and in publications. Members are also involved in flower arranging, hosting and participating in flower shows and presenting programs devoted to this art form. Conservation is a primary focus, both in the area of historic preservation and the protection of natural areas.
Former Garden Club of Jackson President Joanne Cheek articulated an opinion shared by our club members – “ To view, absorb, and experience the natural beauty of a garden is uplifting to the mind and to the soul.”