Garden clubs have a rich tradition planted squarely in Vicksburg’s history
This article was first published in the March/April edition of Vicksburg Living. For more information on Vicksburg Living or how to subscribe to Vicksburg’s premiere magazine, call 601-636-4545.
Mum’s the word.
However, when it comes to enjoying these colorful beauties, let’s not forget camellias, gardenias, and irises, and, well, every other species gardeners like to plant.
Tooling around in the garden can be very therapeutic and relaxing. It can also bring a great sense of accomplishment.
From planting pansies in a pot to espaliering roses up a trellis, there are endless possibilities for a gardener to enhance their surroundings.
And, while not everyone likes digging in the dirt or tending to a flower bed, most would agree they do appreciate nature’s beauty.
Hester Flowers, who was active in the Vicksburg community, knew this; therefore in 1931, she organized the first Vicksburg Garden Club at her home on Cherry Street.
The aim of the club was to not only to further women’s interest in their home flower gardens but to also provide assistance in beautifying the city.
This newly formed Vicksburg Garden Club, as it was called, grew and thrived through the years — so much so that by 1943 it had acquired 69 members. With its continued growth, the membership was eventually divided into 12 neighborhood clubs and the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs was formed.
Clubs included Marion Park Garden Club; Openwood Plantation Garden Club; Maywood Terrace Garden Club; Hester Flowers Garden Club; Town and Country Garden Club; Morning Gardeners Garden Club; Magnolia Garden Club; Floral Garden Club and Green Hills Garden Club.
In 1956, the Council purchased a property at the corner of Main and Monroe Streets for a garden center.
Planters Hall, which had been built in 1834 as the Planters Bank was fashioned in the Greek Revival style, Vicksburg Garden Club member Miriam Jabour said.
The upper level of the building had also served as the living quarters for the bank president up until its failure in 1843, at which time it along with its outbuildings that consisted of a two-story kitchen carriage house and stables were converted into a single-family residence. Later it was used as apartments.
“When the Council purchased the bank building for $17,500 it was in a deplorable state,” Jabour said. “There were holes in the floor, the wood inside had not seen paint in decades and I was told that one occupant had chickens and a goat living with him in his room.”
The demise of the old structure was inevitable. But with funds collected from citizens and businesses to make the initial down payment, in addition to the thousands of sweat equity hours club members contributed, Planters Hall was saved.
“These ladies scrubbed, scraped paint, sewed curtains and worked far harder than most volunteers are expected to work today to create the furnished structure that so many came to know and love,” Jabour said.
In an effort to maintain the building and finance years of bank payments, Jabour said, the Council collected annual Planters Hall dues from the more than 300 members and held fundraisers that included Christmas shops, antique shows and bulb sales.
Jabour, who also wrote a garden column for The Vicksburg Post, said the individual garden clubs held their respective meetings which included educational instruction, neighborhood projects, and as always a time for women to gather and socialize.
“Garden clubs were a social event like a bridge club,” Jabour said.
The Council and individual clubs sponsored events, including annual flower shows.
Jo Glyn Hunt said participating in the flower shows was her favorite thing to do as a garden club member.
“Doing the flower shows was the most fun thing to me,” Hunt said, which was evident by the number of Blue Ribbons she said she had won for her arrangements. One year, Hunt said, she was even awarded Best in Show.
In addition to the flower shows and fundraisers, the Council also sponsored one large project each year for individual clubs to participate in.
One of those was the planting of trees, (dogwoods, crepe myrtles and magnolias) throughout the city.
Working as an integral part of the community, the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs was an active participant with the Mississippi Gardening Clubs with three local women — Flowers, Fannie Peeples and Clyde Everett — serving as state president.
Peeples also served as National Junior Gardening Chairman and authored “Junior Garden Club Handbook — A Leader’s Guide.”
With involvement and dedication to their community, the Vicksburg garden clubs have made a difference, Jabour said.
“They have planted hundreds of trees, shrubs, bulbs and flowers to beautify the community long before the City ever dreamed of hiring a landscape architect,” she said.
Junior gardening was stressed and a number of active junior clubs were formed and sponsored by the adult clubs.
“Children and adults have learned about horticulture, conservation, litter control and habitats for wildlife because of educational programs conducted by local garden clubs. Our Council flower shows were affairs long remembered by the community and these ladies even painted fire hydrants all over town like revolutionary soldiers to celebrate the Bicentennial,” Jabour said.
However, while all these projects are worthy of praise, Jabour said the purchase of Planters Hall, “Was one of the most significant accomplishments the garden club ladies made in our community.”
“When I became a club member back in the ’70s, Planters Hall was a major project for the 10 clubs and over 350 members that made up the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs,” Jabour said. “We held meetings at Planters Hall, teas, flower shows and schools for judges training there. Planters Hall was also available for private receptions and weddings and was an annual participant in Vicksburg Pilgrimages,” she said.
Sadly, in 1996, Planters Hall was sold due to economics and the dissolution of more than half of the garden clubs. The Council also disbanded, with now only four clubs operating independently.
But to commemorate the importance of all the local garden club members, past and present, on May 29, 2008, a Vicksburg Riverfront Mural was unveiled.
Sponsored by the five remaining clubs at the time — Green Hills, Hester Flowers, Morning Gardeners, Openwood Plantation and Town and Country — Jabour said every item on the mural is there for a reason.
“Planters Hall is the prominent element. The three ladies sitting around a table near the Memorial Garden are the three Vicksburgers who became presidents — Mrs. Hester Flowers, Mrs. Clyde Everette and Mrs. Fannie Peeples. The flower arrangement sitting on the table represents the award-winning flower shows and educational programs conducted by the clubs,” Jabour said.
And the children in the mural, she said, are reminders of the hours devoted to the junior and high school gardeners the local clubs sponsored in hopes of encouraging a love of gardening.
A plaque sits below the mural with information related to the significance of Planters Hall and the efforts made by the Garden Clubs of Vicksburg and their efforts to save and preserve an important piece of local and state history.
“Although they no longer own and maintain Planters Hall, the mural will remind visitors and generations to come of the contributions made by garden club members to the Vicksburg community,” Jabour said.