MOUNT VERNON — Sept. 9, 1948, 27 women met at The Alcove Restaurant in downtown Mount Vernon for the first meeting of the Town and Country Garden Club.
Friday, the current members of the club will gather once more at The Alcove to celebrate 70 years of fellowship, community service and lifelong learning about gardens, environmental practices and floral design.
“I have enjoyed the privilege of being a member of the Town and Country Garden Club which, over its 70 years, has donated countless hours of service and expertise, in addition to thousands of dollars, towards the environmental sustainability and beautification of Mount Vernon and Knox County,” said Susan Kahrl, former president of the club, who will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the Anniversary Celebration.
The Early Years
The first officers of the Town and Country Garden Club, Mrs. Robert Hoecker, president; Mrs. William Pond, vice president; Mrs. Walter Rudin, secretary; Mrs. William Miller, treasurer and Mrs. John Glackin, program chair, opted to affiliate with the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs which had been formed in 1930, following a spring garden school sponsored by the Horticulture Department at the Ohio State University.
When the Town and Country Garden Club was formed, organized garden clubs had already been in existence for more than 50 years, since 1891 when 12 women in Athens, Georgia, founded the Ladies Garden Club of Athens.
Their purpose was to engage in the study of plants and to help repair the damage to monuments, parks and public gardens that had occurred during the Civil War.
In Knox County, the Town and Country Garden Club similarly adopted a two-part mission, “to promote interest in civic beautification” and “to learn the fundamentals of gardening.”
“And 70 years later, that is still very much what we do,” said Kimberlee Klesner, program chair for the Town and Country Garden Club. “Our recent programs have ranged from apiculture to how to make a rain barrel, environmental stewardship, learning about early botanical gardens in Italy, and visiting area public and private gardens. We learn a lot, we help our community, and we have a lot of fun along the way.”
It is service to the Knox County community that has been at the core of the club’s activities since its founding. In the 1950s and 1960s, club members took on the project of landscaping Mount Vernon’s public schools.
In 1950, members asked Nell Gatton Wade of Wade & Gatton Nursery in Bellville to work with them on a landscaping plan for East School.
That planting was done during the summer of 1952, with all funds raised by the Town and Country Garden Club — plus $12 donated by the students at East School for an additional tree that they could plant themselves. Before all the trees were in the ground, they were starting on a similar plan for Elmwood School. Landscaping at Hiawatha and Dan Emmett schools followed.
In a 1954 Mount Vernon News “Town Talk and County Chat” column by Hal Clawson, Mrs. William E. Pond proclaimed that “eventually, we hope to beautify every school building in the city.”
Civic projects were not confined to the schools, however. In 1959, the club raised money to help community nurserymen get back on their feet following the Flood of ’59.
Over the years they bought gardening books for the Mount Vernon Public Library and science books for the Mount Vernon schools, supported the Jaycees Christmas Decorating Fund, the Mount Vernon City Dogwood Project and the Garden Therapy Project at the Mount Vernon State Hospital.
In 1972, they worked with Mayor Harold Johnson to expand and improve green areas around the city. They have been sponsoring awards at the Mount Vernon High School Kiwanis Scholarship Banquet for more than 40 years.
For many years, club members designed and maintained a garden area at the YMCA in Mount Vernon. They helped assemble the floral carpet at Ameriflora in Columbus in 1992; in 1998, planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs in the park at the junction of Columbus and Harcourt Roads, and in 1999, made a grant to purchase additional flowers for the new Children’s Garden at the Career Center.
“The projects have been a collaborative effort between the garden club and governmental, civic and commercial entities,” notes Susan Givens, civic affairs chair. “Funds for our grants come from an annual silent auction which typically consisted almost exclusively of goods provided by members. In recent years, area merchants have been invited to contribute gift certificates and have done so generously. We work hand-in-hand to make the community an attractive and lively place for people to visit, live and work. We are deeply indebted to them for their willing participation.”
The club’s most recent projects include funds for signage, plantings, picnic tables and benches at Wolf Run Regional Park and Honey Run Park. They bought trees and shrubs for the East Gambier Street and Lambton Square Parks, a shade tree for the equine area at the Knox County Fairgrounds, rose bushes for the Gambier Street mini-park, spring bulbs for Quarry Chapel, a sassafras tree and native perennials for the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College and recently, funds for a water garden at the Center.
The club contributed towards plantings at Ariel-Foundation Park and helped design and plant the gardens at the Dan Emmett House in Mount Vernon. Club member Wendy Fetters worked with the Knox County Historical Society to research and select botanical varieties for the medicinal and kitchen herb garden that would have been used during Dan Emmett’s lifetime.
“Over the last 70 years, our garden club has created a legacy for the next generation of which we are very proud — A legacy of ideas, funding, beautification projects and community support. Now we challenge the next generation to fulfill these ambitions to serve our community even better,” said Linda Ellis, president of the club in 2017-18.