• Organized in 1922, Member of the Garden Club of Virginia since 1924

  • Excerpts from Follow the Green Arrow – The History of the Garden Club of Virginia, 1920-1970

    July 22, 2013 | History News
  • By Mrs. James Bland Martin

    1920 – 1930

    RIVANNA: When this second garden club in Charlottesville was formed November 16, 1922, “the guiding angels” were from Albemarle, Mrs. C. E. Blue and Mrs. J. S. Davis. Called Rivanna River Garden Club, it elected Mrs. Thomas Fawcus president. This history says: “Just when we dropped the River, I no longer remember.” She continues, “There were no winter meetings that first year, which speaks volumes about the roads our county members would have to negotiate.” They set aside $5.00 for printing the constitution and by-laws. It wasn’t enough. So they decided to wait until they were more affluent. The next August they had a zinnia show. It cost them $5.30 to stage. They made enough money to have the year book printed.

    To celebrate their first birthday, they had a lecture with slides, “The lantern was loaned.” (It was this dear history-writing member who always spoke of the “Confederated Garden Club of Virginia.” A typographical error? No, for again and again it was firmly used. Then she wrote sadly, “The Confederation has been dropped.”)

    Early they planted boxwood at the McIntyre Library, but, “Thoughtless boys destroyed our plantings.” So they planted again. Evergreens were put at the Meriwether Lewis statue. These grew and became a traffic hazard at that busy corner. So a grass plot, with crocuses, was substituted. History: “I have not seen a crocus there in ages, if they ever did come up.” After being admitted to the GCV in 1924, they went to Lexington for a meeting. They took with them a wreath to place at the tomb of General Lee.

    1930 – 1940

    RIVANNA could be described in capsule as: “With Horticulture…Have Test Gardens.” In fact its history could be sub-titled, “Our Love Affair with the GCV Test Gardens, with Financial Undertones.” So flower by flower, here we go:

    ROSES: The plan to furnish authoritative information on roses in Virginia began in 1927 in the GCV and member clubs. In 1928 the Rose Test Chairman wrote: “Until a fund can be established for this purpose, each rose lover must buy his own plants. The chairman, by ordering them all together, will be able to secure the finest stock at the minimum coast.” Rivanna appointed a Rosarian, and the club was asked to send in $12.00 as its share in the GCV program. It did. In February, 1929, it sent in $5.00 more “to cover a small deficit”; in October, 1929, it sent $15.00 “to help with the expense of testing roses”; in May, 1930, it sent “$0.25 per capita for the Rose Test Garden.” In addition the members were buying their own rose test collections. In 1934 the GCV President wrote all clubs, “Is the Rose Test Garden giving its money’s worth?” Rivanna, all but financially exhausted, voted, “We favor the Rose Test Garden but agree that the budget should be kept.” And keeping that budget soon became the responsibility of their member, Mrs. William Long, who became GCV Rose Test Chairman with a main garden in Charlottesville and four different regional gardens in different parts of the state. (Rivanna, toughened in this stern school, has grown blue ribbon winners ever since – Best in Show, Best Test Collections, and the Harris Cup came three times to Captain and Mrs. Edgar M. Williams.)
    DAFFODILS: In 1930 the GCV President wrote asking that each member club purchase and care for a collection to cost $80.00. Rivanna had $105.57 in its treasury, but it parted with the $80.00, “being most anxious to support the policy of the GCV.” (As early as 1946 there were 360 varieties in Rivanna’s Daffodil Test Garden and more blue ribbons – for daffodils.)

    LILIES: In September, 1936, Mrs. Walker, former GCV President, urged the study of liliums. The next month Rivanna had 25 “second size” lily bulbs in the ground, and by 1938 was raising lilies from seed. Both the Walker and Harris Challenge Cups lived here. (At the 1961 Lily Show Mrs. Joseph Fl Musselman, club member, exhibited a remarkable collection of plant of the lily family, not members of Genus Lilium. From a list of 85 known species, she showed 30 plants!)

    But Rivanna couldn’t let well enough alone, and to fill up the time on their hands, in 1934 they stated a Lilac Test Garden, the only one in the GCV. Before 1938 the testing of herbs began, with the same talented Mrs. Musselman in charge for twenty years. She would occasionally report, “The herbs have survived in spite of stiff competition with chickweed.” (In May, 1951 the New York Branch of the Herb Society asked if it could press a call on Rivanna’s Herb Garden. The club gave Mrs. Musselman $10.00 to “spruce it up.” She had just made a prize addition of Dittany of Crete, many years lost, and she and Dittany and the spruced-up garden waited, but illness kept the visitors from coming. And that is not all. In 1957 the club started an Iris Test Garden, again the only one in the GCV. And if there are any more test gardens, don’t tell this historian. She has run out of space.)

    1940 – 1950

    RIVANNA, with all those test gardens going, must have found it easy to branch out into another kind of garden called Victory Garden. There was one in particular, a community vegetable garden for children. Rivanna supervised, but the 23 children staked their plots, fertilized, sowed, and cultivated. With Albemarle, this club set up annual Victory Garden Fairs in the Old Armory. To the hilt, the members cooperated with the GCV in its wartime programs.

    1950 – 1960

    RIVANNA had been a part of Garden Week from the beginning, “running the gamut from manning the information center to supplying gardens, large and small.” In 1950 the suggestion that a group of small gardens be opened caught the fancy of Rivanna. Its chairman, Mrs. Charles I. Marvin, spoke of the “many beautiful estates around us with their impressive gardens which are beyond the dreams of most of us, except to admire. It is to the small garden, tucked away where no passing tourist can see its treasures, that we must turn.” It was Mrs. Marvin who thought of the “Friendly Gardens,” a name used to this day. Usually open the entire week, these small gardens give joy annually to thousands of traveling Garden Week visitors.

    In this decade the club planted dogwood on Jefferson Park Avenue islands and won a prize for the best design for planting a small triangle at a branch bank. This $100.00 was sent to Nature Camp for a slide projector. The club saved trees on High Street as it had saved the Tarleton Oak years ago, and it vigorously opposed the building of a motel in the restricted area around Court Square.

    1960 – 1970

    RIVANNA, as a charter member of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Beautification Commission, worked hard at this assignment and, for the most part, successfully. This history does tell of planting concrete flower boxes in front of Main Street businesses: “Mrs. Charles K. Woltz and Mrs. Edgar M. Williams almost single-handed tried to keep life in these boxes, but the intense heat of Charlottesville summers, the lackadaisical watering by the merchants, plus the aphids, caused the petunias, azaleas, and geraniums to languish and die. The project was abandoned in 1966.”

    Beginning in 1950 and continuing through this history, one sentence appears repeatedly, “The Friendly Gardens and the Farmington garden of Mr. and Mrs. Austin D. Kilham were open for the whole of Garden Week.” Mrs. Kilham died February 15, 1966, and in her memory the club created a garden at St. Anne’s School, which her daughter had attended. Designed by Mrs. Harry L. Smith and known as the Susie Badger Kilham Study Garden, it was presented June 28, 1967. The history describes it: “The garden features a stone area holds pyramidal box, azaleas, and candytuft. Our outstanding gardeners, headed by Mrs. Myron E. Tremain, worked here, and Mr. Kilham lavished plant material from his garden. It is a beautiful spot and seldom unoccupied.” (It was open Garden Week 1968. Susie Kilham would have liked that.)
    It is sheer madness to single out anyone in this club of achievers, but the valiant team of Captain and Mrs. Edgar M. Williams must be mentioned. They have been a part of every activity of this club and the GCV, co-chaired the GCV Conservation Forum for two years, attended and won awards at every flower show, among other things. It was Captain Williams who assembled and coordinated the excellent history of this club from 1922 to 1962. In its Appendix D, under the caption “Your Plans and Hopes for the Future,” he wrote: “Plans: Indefinite. Hopes: That someone will keep this up to date.” (Does that phrase indicate a bit of suppressed impatience with the ladies?) Someone did keep this history up to date – Jean Printz!