History of the Memphis Garden Club
The Memphis Garden Club (MGC) was formed in 1921 and became a member of the Garden Club of America (GCA) in 1925. Mrs. J.P. Norfleet, MGC founder, served as first President. Since its establishment, the MGC has adhered closely to its purposes as stated in its by-laws as follows:
“The purposes of this Club shall be to advance and encourage the knowledge and practice of horticulture; to promote an active interest in design and development of gardens; to aid in the conservation of trees, native plants and wildflowers; to aid and carry on scientific and educational activities in these areas; to cooperate in civic improvements; and to further the projects of the Garden Club of America.” Our Founders
A primary emphasis of the MGC is to advance and encourage the knowledge and practice of horticulture and the design and development of gardens. In 1966, the MGC and the American Daffodil Society jointly hosted the National Daffodil Show in Memphis. During the four subsequent years, the Club alternately hosted the Tennessee State Daffodil Show and the Southern Regional Daffodil Show. As a result of these shows, the Mid-South Daffodil Society was formed; and the quality of and interest in locally grown daffodils perceptibly improved. From 1973-77, MGC sponsored a Horticulture Symposium and Fern Competition.
The large and enthusiastic Horticulture Committee holds meetings periodically as announced in the MGC newsletter. The programs include propagation, plant identification, bulbs, bonsai, herbs, roses, bed preparation, indoor gardening, natural landscape, and field trips. The committee’s past interest in wildflowers inspired members to create and execute a petit- point wall hanging that depicts spring wildflowers of Tennessee, which is currently displayed in The Dixon Gallery and Gardens. MGC invites Little Garden Club members to attend horticulture meetings that pertain to Memphis Flower Show. The award-winning exhibits, created by the Horticulture Committee in the Memphis Flower Show, attract national GCA judges and horticulture devotees throughout the Mid- South.
Memphis Flower Show continues to be a Memphis and GCA favorite since its inception in 1978. Until 1984, this flower show was a Zone IX show named, “Flowers and Art.” Since that time, the show has been designated as one of only a handful of GCA Major Flower Shows. In 2004, Flowers and Art officially changed its name to Memphis Flower Show. MGC produces this show biennially on even years at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens to record attendance and rave reviews. Again and again GCA has recognized this show with commendations in recognition of its excellence in flower arrangement, horticulture, conservation, education, and photography. This prestigious show draws horticulture and artistic judges and entries from GCA members locally and throughout the U.S. while reflecting the stated purpose of MGC. In 2016, Memphis Flower Show was designated by the MGC Board an official Ways and Means project.
The MGC excels in its stated purpose “to cooperate in civic improvements” through its horticulture and garden-design and -development projects at Memphis Botanic Garden and The Dixon Gallery and Gardens. The MGC President serves as an ex-officio member of each board during her tenure. Since the dedication of the Goldsmith Civic Garden Center in 1964, MGC has supported many projects at the Memphis Botanic Garden. Some of the projects MGC funds have been used to create or support include the Water Garden (1965), Sculpture Garden (1968), the Volunteer Greenhouse (1987), the refurbishing of the original Sculpture Garden (1993), and the renovation of the Water Garden (2006). The creation of the Container Garden in 2010 is the latest project accomplished at Memphis Botanic Garden with our club’s assistance. MGC members serve frequently as Memphis Botanic Garden directors and provide other valuable volunteer support. In 2013-14 the Memphis Botanic Garden Sculpture Garden received intensive restoration. Through the generosity of Memphis Garden Club members, business and civic leaders and the leadership of the Garden History and Design committee, the true mission of the Sculpture Garden was realized.
Since the founding of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in 1976, a natural involvement has developed between it and MGC. As with the Memphis Botanic Garden, MGC members serve in a variety of volunteer capacities from directors to greenhouse potters. One of the most important MGC committees is the extremely talented Fine Arts Committee, which is responsible for the Dixon’s bi-weekly and special events flower arrangements and Christmas decorations. Gifts from the Club have been a greenhouse (1982), a gazebo (1992), and generous donations to the cutting garden (1997, 1998, and 1999). In 1999, the name of the cutting garden was officially changed to The MGC Cutting Garden at a dedication ceremony in recognition of MGC’s continued support of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. In 1987, Phoebe Cook Welsh of Houston generously established the Phoebe Cook Lecture Series to honor her mother through the partnership of MGC and the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. This annual lecture series is free and open to the public. Mrs. Welsh attended the series she endowed until her death in 2010. The Phoebe Cook family and the Memphis Garden Club completed in 2014 a successful campaign of adding $120,000 to the Phoebe Cook Endowment Fund raising this Lecture Series into international prominence.
Through the years MGC has supported a wide range of other civic improvements including the following: The Veteran’s Hospital, Juvenile Court, Memphis Academy of Arts (now Memphis College of Art), Crippled Children’s Hospital School (Methodist Outreach), a three-mile strip along North Parkway, and Hope House. Funds for these and other projects have been raised from home and garden tours, fashion shows, a county fair, table setting exhibits, garden marts, and a candle-light tour. In 2006, after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, MGC contributed to the Zone IX Horticultural Restoration Fund. Several members traveled to New Orleans to help in the replanting of Longue Vue Gardens. To celebrate the GCA Centennial in 2013, in conjunction with the Dixon Gallery and Gardens and East High School, MGC propagated and planted three varieties of magnolias on the grounds of the school.
Conservation has been a primary focus since the inception of the MGC. Largely through the efforts of our club, Meeman- Shelby Forest became a state park. In 1937, MGC received the GCA Founders Fund Award for the wildflower trail we planted in the new park. In 1997, MGC gave the seed money for landscaping the Information Center at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. In 1999, we revisited the park to restore the wildflower trail. Americorp, the park rangers, and our Sprouts youth group have formed an alliance to protect and conserve the natural beauty of the park.
In 1972, Farmington Group gave Memphis Garden Club a 21-acre tract along the Wolf River floodplain; Germantown annexed the land and soon announced plans to build a road through the property. Donors of the land had it designated a Tennessee State Natural Area in 1977 in hopes that MGC could establish a nature center there. The property lay dormant for years because of opposition from Germantown.
In 2000, MGC began negotiating with Germantown to resolve the planned division of Riverwoods by the extension of Wolf River Parkway; the issue was resolved in 2005. MGC gave Germantown approval to build a four-lane parkway providing the road was built environmentally sensitive; the road was designed as a “Signature” parkway by Audubon International. Riverwoods was reconfigured from a north-south orientation to 21 acres running east–west with the road right of way along the north boundary. Reorientation was made possible by a land gift from Farmington Group and Boyle Investments. To mitigate the insult to Riverwoods, Germantown agreed to buy 40.97 acres directly across the Wolf River and Walnut Grove Lake donated 277.125 adjacent acres to MGC. The total 318 acres called “Lovitt Woods” were then given by MGC to Wolf River Conservancy with a conservation easement held by Ducks Unlimited protecting the land in perpetuity($2,000,000+in value). This ratio of 15 donated acres for every 21 acres of Riverwoods set a high mitigation standard to hopefully protect other natural areas from similar threats. MGC donated Riverwoods to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to be jointly managed by TDEC and Germantown. Remaining lands north of Riverwoods along the Wolf River were donated to Germantown by MGC and other donors with the agreement that they become greenways. In all, about 450 acres were designated for conservation. Immediately a botanist identified native wildflowers in the road right of way. These were flagged and moved by MGC at a more ideal planting time to the newly reconfigured Riverwoods.
Memphis Garden Club, with the cooperation of TDEC, continues to participate in Garden Club of America’s Partners for Plants by clearing the natural area of invasive plants, such as privet and honeysuckle, to replant natives, and to restore Riverwoods to demonstrate its importance as an urban bottomland hardwood forest in the Wolf River floodplain. The first trees in the “restoration” phase were planted on October 25, 2013, as part of the GCA Conservation Field Trip to Memphis. Soon afterwards, an adjoining developer failed to follow permit guidelines and the NW corner was flooded for weeks, killing trees and depositing silt (2015). Litigation continues.
In 1999, GCA combined the Conservation (CON) and National Affairs and Legislation (NAL) Committees. CON/ NAL has funded public school teachers as delegates to the UT conservation workshops and provided public and private schools with GCA conservation packets. NAL addresses issues related to conservation and the environment with an emphasis on horticulture. NAL meets annually in Washington to lobby Congress, hear speakers, and visit elected officials. CON/NAL supports a wide variety of national conservation organizations. Our club is encouraged to act locally and to think globally.
In the 21st Century, MGC began to utilize electronic means of collecting and disseminating information. In 2004 MGC established a web site for the 2005 Zone Meeting. The website www.memphisgardenclub.org is currently maintained for club and flower show information.
For many years, the primary ways and means project was The Mid- South Garden Guide. This effective educational book fulfills the club’s original purpose of providing horticulture information and encouraging good gardening. Originally published in 1954, the guide was revised and enlarged in 1984. The completely rewritten seventh edition was published in 2007; to date 85,000 copies of the Mid-South Garden Guide have been sold.
MGC has maintained an active association with the Garden Club of America since 1925. In the past, MGC members have served as GCA directors, Zone IX chairmen, and on various GCA committees. A wide range of GCA awards has been given to the MGC and its individual members. MGC has hosted the following GCA meetings: Southern Zone (1952), GCA Forum (1966), GCA Annual (1972), Zone IX (1979, 1995, 2005, and 2015). The latter four events were co-hosted with The Little Garden Club. The Horticulture Services Division of the Smithsonian Institution, in liaison with the Garden Club of America, has accepted several MGC members’ gardens into the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens.