’Steel Magnolias’

Garden club celebrates 70 years of beautifying Bartow

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Beautifying Bartow one project at a time, The Magnolia Garden Club celebrated its 70th anniversary Aug. 25. Returning to its roots, the group’s festivities were presented at Rose Lawn Museum, the site of the club’s initial meeting in the late 1940s.

“The members of the Magnolia Garden Club, Laurel District, feel it is a great honor to still be an established active club for the last 70 years,” said Sandra McMillan, president of The Magnolia Garden Club. “It is an exciting time for us to celebrate all the achievements and projects that have been accomplished through our club.

“… In March 1949, The Magnolia Garden Club of Cartersville was organized in the home of Mrs. Guy Parmenter, who was then president of the Cartersville Garden Club. The first meeting was held in the Sam Jones home, now known as Rose Lawn, on Cherokee Avenue,” she said, adding the club was formed with 48 members under the direction of its first president, Mabel Fields.

As McMillan noted, Rose Lawn Museum is the former Cartersville residence of the late Methodist evangelist Samuel Porter Jones. Currently operated by Bartow County government as a house museum, the property is known today for its heritage roses and seasonal festivals.

“On behalf of the staff of Rose Lawn, I would like to congratulate Magnolia Garden Club on this impressive milestone,” said Jane Drew, director of Rose Lawn Museum. “I have known and worked with many of their members for such a long time and in so many different ways. In fact, my first introduction to Rose Lawn, prior to serving as director, was with long-time garden club member, Mrs. Mary Siniard.

“… The grounds at Rose Lawn have also benefited from the touch of other garden club members. Laura's Garden was established in 2003 by their efforts and is still our most used wedding site. Several of their garden club members  are part of another  ‘Rose Lawn helpful hand,’ the Bartow County Master Gardeners. On any given Wednesday, you can easily see both groups coming together and making Rose Lawn Museum the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Cartersville.”

Like Drew, Sheri Henshaw also is thrilled to see the group celebrate its 70th anniversary. A former member and president of The Magnolia Garden Club, she currently is serving as the executive director of Keep Bartow Beautiful.

“In their 70 years of existence, Magnolia Garden Club has served the community as a standard-bearer of elegance, beauty, and good taste in gardening, flower arranging, garden education, environmental stewardship and community service,” Henshaw said. “They have placed memorial markers, sponsored youth education projects, held flower shows and garden tours, and currently sponsor and help fund and maintain both a memorial garden at Rose Lawn and a Native Pollinator Garden at George Washington Carver Park.”

Presently comprised of 34 members, The Magnolia Garden Club meets the second Friday of each month — January to May, and September and October — at Heritage Baptist Church in Cartersville around 9:15 a.m.

“Their members hold monthly meetings that cover a wide range of activities, all related to gardens, education and the natural environment,” Henshaw said. “Their monthly meetings feature a return to a certain kind of charm that comes with tablecloths and appetizers served alongside a seasonal flower arrangement. But this same group also carries the power and authority of the fearsome ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes,’ as those at the Georgia Capitol called them, who advocate for protecting the environment, saving trees and removing billboards from our state highways to increase their beauty.

“This group has helped plant wildflower seeds along the state highways and supported Lady Bird Johnson's call to beautify America. While they may appear lovely and fragrant and varied in style, like the very flowers and gardens they promote, they are also tough as nails, the proverbial Steel Magnolias.”

Along with their beautification efforts at Rose Lawn Museum, The Magnolia Garden Club is active in the community, awarding a $1,000 horticulture scholarship annually to a college student; installing a Blue Star Memorial Marker at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center in 2016 to honor service members; erecting raised flower beds at two assisted living homes; and reading a children’s gardening book to youth at Cartersville Public Library and donating a copy to the library and every local elementary school during Georgia Garden Week.

“One of the club’s proud accomplishments is the restoration of the Junior Magnolia Garden Club in 2017 at Hamilton Crossing Elementary School,” McMillan said. “Kathleen Clark, chairperson of the Youth/Education committee, Sandy Lukas and Lynn Frye — Master Gardeners — met with students interested in gardening and organized the group.

“In 1998, the garden club started the space but due to circumstances it had not been maintained. They first had to get the space ready for planting. The students stayed after school along with committee members and other volunteers to prepare the land. Then, they planted flowers and vegetables, with some of the vegetables being cooked in the lunchroom. The garden club members and students continue to diligently work after school to maintain this beautiful garden.”

Among The Magnolia Garden Club’s most recent projects is the Native Pollinator Perennial Garden at George Washington Carver Park. The group captured an agri-tourism award — first place in medium clubs from The Garden Club of Georgia — for this outreach effort. Along with providing volunteers, McMillan said, The Magnolia Garden Club donated $500 to the pollinator garden.

“It’s a compliment to our caring and hard work,” said Bonnie Floyd, the club’s chairwoman of National Garden Week. “We realize that we must work to preserve our native plants and our wonderful pollinators in particular. … Butterflies and bees and hummingbirds — nothing lifts your spirits like seeing these gorgeous creatures enjoying their lives as we enjoy ours.”

Sponsored by The Magnolia Garden Club, the Native Pollinator Perennial Garden was a component of Keep Bartow Beautiful’s National Planting Day Project in 2018.

For Calvin Cooley, director of the planning and programs committee of the Friends of George Washington Carver Park, the club “has made a permanent impact” on the Acworth venue. The garden is one of the newest additions to the historic site, which Cooley shared was formed in 1950 “as the first of four ‘Georgia State Parks for Negroes’ during the era of segregation.”

When installed, the 12-foot-by-20-foot garden featured a plethora of native plants, including Georgia aster, blue-eyed grass and swamp hibiscus. In addition to KBB, the club received assistance from various organizations and businesses in Bartow and Cherokee counties.

“When all the volunteer hours and donations were put together, the garden had a total value of over $4,000 to the Friends of Carver, and a donation check was presented to Friends of Carver Park Chairman Calvin Cooley on June 6, 2019, as part of Magnolia Garden Club's National Garden Week activities,” Henshaw said. “The check was presented to highlight the ongoing partnerships created during this process, and the club hopes to continue their work at Carver.

“Currently, the garden has been on the losing end of a battle with the local deer population, something all lake residents can attest to. Plans are already underway to weed, water and replant, and on the best practices to prevent garden decimation by deer and other local wildlife.”

At 89, Floyd is The Magnolia Garden Club’s oldest member. Joining the group in 1982, the Cartersville resident enjoys the club’s camaraderie and community projects.

“I’ve always liked plants, and I’ve always liked people,” she said. “I was encouraged by my friends to join this garden club, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. We are a friendly group, and I like to think we do some good.”

Drawing inspiration from Floyd and other Magnolia Garden Club members, Henshaw is thrilled to still work alongside the group in her current position with Bartow County government.

“Some of my favorite projects through Keep Bartow Beautiful and our Community Greening Initiative have been with Magnolia Garden Club, especially Bonnie Floyd, who is my role model in so many ways,” Henshaw said. “She just amazes me. But the club is filled with women of purpose, and I applaud each and every one, through the entire 70 years.

“They each added spots of beauty to their everyday lives, through their gardens, arrangements at churches, tree plantings at schools and parks, just making their own little spaces beautiful to enhance their neighborhoods. They take pride in their surroundings, and set the standard for Keeping Bartow Beautiful, every single day.”

For more information about The Magnolia Garden Club, visit its Facebook page, Magnolia Garden Club-Cartersville, or email McMillan  at  swmcmillan@bellsouth.net.