Garden Club still blossoming

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

October 2, 2013

The Clinton Garden Club marked its 85th anniversary Tuesday, celebrating a litany of accomplishments and a lifetime of camaraderie cultivated in the community, which, along with lives of the Garden Club members past and present, has grown a little more colorful because of the group.

In 1928, under the leadership of Clara Matthis, wife of the Presbyterian minister George Matthis, the Clinton Garden Club was established as an independent club and later was aligned with the Garden Club of North Carolina. The club started with 22 members and through the years has boasted more than 100, so large there was not a local building that could accommodate so many women for regular meetings.

“At one time, we had over 100 members,” said Bonnie Everhart, president of the Clinton Garden Club from 1995-98. “The group was so large they had to divide up because there was no building in Clinton for 100 women to meet in, so they split. Well, nobody was happy being separated from the other members so the group went back together again. They just couldn’t abide being split in half.”

That kind of friendship is the foundation upon which the Clinton Garden Club was built, and on which it still thrives. Everhart said the club is more than just planting and taking care of flowers.

“It’s just so wonderful,” she said. “The camaraderie has carried on through the years. That’s the glue that held it together — the common interest. It’s just fabulous.”

Faith Alley, first vice president, welcomed those in attendance at Tuesday’s 85th anniversary celebration, held at the Small House. Garden Club president Billie DeVane was not able to be at the event as she was recuperating from surgery, so Alley led the group in reciting the Official Collect of the Garden Club of North Carolina Inc., followed by the “State Garden Club Song,” sang to the tune of “America the Beautiful.”

Club members, presidents and officials past and present came together Tuesday to recognize a history that is storied, impacting not only the physical landscape but touching lives in the process. There is hardly a building in the community that has not been a recipient of Garden Club care, members said.

Over the years, women who did not mind getting their hands dirty did much work with little capital, but made a sizable impact through projects big and small.

In the past, the club planted cherry laurels at Clinton High School, cleaned up unsightly lots around town and even sponsored a municipal Christmas tree, while also raising money for lights and decorations to be placed around Clinton for the holidays. Rye grass was planted, and general landscaping done, around the courthouse.

Over the years, projects have also grown and expanded to broaden the club’s impact.

“We not only plant, pot and trim,” a sort of mission statement in the Garden Club Anniversary program read, “we also have programs that teach us how to make our homes more pleasant, our yards more interesting and our community more inviting.”

To that end, the Clinton Garden Club maintains gardens at the J.C. Holliday Library in Clinton, the “Welcome to Clinton” area at the top of College Street and the educational and continually growing Butterfly Garden at Sampson Community College. In partnership with Nancy Olson and her Horticulture Department students, and the assistance of Garden Club members and club donations, the butterfly garden served as an excursion for 800 second graders across the county this year.

Other sizable new projects include the refurbishment of both the prayer garden at Mary Gran Nursing Center, originally started when the center was built in the 1940s, and the June Lovell garden at the Domestic Violence Center.

“As we’ve grown, we’ve been able to take on more things,” Alley said. “The other garden we’re starting in the spring is the therapy garden at the Cancer Center on Beaman.”

And not every project is readily seen by the public, whether it is making wreaths and small bouquets to take to patients at Sampson Regional Medical Center or an arrangement to a friend or family member who needs it.

The Garden Club, like the seeds it sows, goes much deeper than the surface. And its members know that well, a reason for their tireless dedication.

Through the years, there have been Garden Club members “faithful to the end,” said Everhart, and the shared love for the club regularly prompts its members to look after each other. When someone cannot make it to a meeting because their health does not permit it, other members will visit and brief that ailing member on what happened, ongoing projects and catch up on conversation — almost always with a poinsettia or another arrangement in hand.

Everhart said there was one particular woman, Mrs. Boney, who was nearly 100 when she passed. To her dying day, she enjoyed being a part of the club, even though she could not be an active member.

“She couldn’t get to us, but she would pay her dues every year,” said Everhart. “She wanted to be part of the club.”

Alley said that is not out of the ordinary for the club, which currently has 55 members.

“We still have members who pay their dues and can’t come, but want to remain in the club,” she said. “That’s amazing.”

Among the many dedicated members, the Garden Club as part of its anniversary celebration honored three of its own who passed away in the last year, including Blue Caison, Audrey Hartsoe and Cynthia Wallace.

“My grandmother loved, loved, loved the Garden Club,” said Hartsoe’s granddaughter Ashley Hartsoe. “She couldn’t get out very much, but one thing she wanted to do was come to these meetings.”

Wallace’s sister, Mary Godwin, said her sister absolutely loved the club and what it meant.

“She shared you all’s love every Christmas, with family members way beyond just immediate family,” Godwin said to those at Tuesday’s celebration, noting the dazzling arrangements she would prepare in abundance each Christmas. “She shared your love everywhere. We are recipients of all your wonderful work.”

Godwin also expressed appreciation for what the Garden Club would be doing to revitalize the prayer garden at Mary Gran, which was built by their family, the Wallaces.

Everhart said she was grateful for those who have worked to make the Garden Club what it is today. Caison, Hartsoe and Wallace were an important part of that history.

“All of them were such staunch supporters for many, many years,” said Everhart. “They were involved in a lot of community things, but very much active in the Garden Club, as long as they could be.”

Even when Audrey Hartsoe was confined to her bed, she was still in touch with the Garden Club, Everhart said. Garden Club members would sit by her bed and, just as club members would brief Hartsoe with the recent goings-on of the club, Hartsoe would regale her visitors with past stories from Garden Club lore.

At the anniversary celebration, there were numerous stations that detailed the many Clinton Garden Club projects and its community outreach, as well as displayed the club’s history in the form of its scrap books, which can also be found at the Sampson County History Museum.

It is a rich history. One that started 85 years ago but continues to blossom.

At one of the stations, there was a video recording of the 70th anniversary of the Clinton Garden Club in 1998, where Everhart was speaking to a crowd assembled in the same room at the Small House, speaking as the club’s president. She pointed to some of the other women in the crowd. Some were still around, others had since passed — gone, but like so many other women who have been a part of the Clinton Garden Club, not forgotten.

“Everybody wore a hat and it was a festive occasion, right in this room,” said Everhart. There were not hats Tuesday, but it was just as festive, with the Small House packed with around 70 people. “It’s just marvelous that a group could be as strong today as it was in 1928.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at