Rooted in history
A club whose influence can still be seen today in the hanging baskets and planters that dot downtown Sevierville celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. There was about one person present for each of the years the Sevierville Garden Club was celebrating on Wednesday.
The club marked the milestone with a tea at the Fort Sanders Senior Center in Sevierville. Several of the club’s charter members were on hand as they and fellow members reminisced on how the club began and all it has accomplished in a quarter of a century.
“Originally this club was interested in the beautification, the history of the area,” said current club president Dixie Seaton. They worked with the city to beautify the downtown area. “A lot of these gals were the ones that actually put the barrels and the planters our downtown, and hauled the water and started that whole downtown beautification.”
Aileen Fowler, Marie Temple, Frances Ostergren, Marye Rose and Annette Carpenter led the discussion of the club’s early years. Fowler, Temple, Ostergren and another charter member, Irene Fox, are still current members of the club.
“My recollection of this, is this was after the World’s Fair and people were starting to move into Sevierville because they knew there was going to be a lot of profit here for them,” said Rose. “But they didn’t always treasure this city as much as we did, and they would come into town and not particularly do anything to make their building attractive. Some of us resented that a little bit and decided that we needed to do something about this.”
At that time, she said, the city had little to no zoning laws or landscaping requirements.
“We called it a garden club,” Rose said of their first efforts. “We should have named it a beautification type project. We didn’t know anything else to do. If you look back at that first meeting, they were people who cared very deeply for this city, and wanted to see the beauty that we knew was here but we thought could be improved upon with a little bit of landscaping. As it has developed, downtown Sevierville is now very pretty, with all the hanging baskets and the city now has a horticulturist on staff, so I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot.”
“Well, if we didn’t we planted some seeds,” Carpenter said.
That first project to place planters in downtown Sevierville was a joint project with the city, Carpenter said. The city provided the planters; the club members planted them and then recruited nearby business owners to water them.
“Well, some people did better watering than others, so by the end of the summer, some of them didn’t have any plants,” she said. “But that’s how it started, just one little step at a time.”
They also discussed how they generated funds to help pay for their projects. They sold items at craft fairs and festivals held within the city.
“One thing we enjoyed, we bought flowers and sold our own arrangements,” Ostergren said. “We stay there at the sales, we’d stay for hours and sell these things...and then clean up afterwards.”
She also remembered the home tours that the club held, with home owners opening their homes for tours by the public.
“We did that for several years and it was a good way to make money for the club, and we enjoyed it, too,” Ostergren said.
Seaton said the club joined the National Garden Club and began holding garden shows every other year, with members competing for awards in flower arrangements.
“They’ve been well attended,” Ostergren said of the shows they’ve held. “We still do that, every two years we have a public show of Garden Club work. That tells the public what we’re able to do.”
But civic efforts are still a good part of the club’s efforts. Their current project is a renovation of the gardens at the Sevier County Nursing Home.
Sevierville Mayor Bryan Atchley credits the club with helping to push the city in the right direction.
“It’s people like you who have kept that attention on beautification,” he said.
“It’s important how your town looks, especially downtown. I’ve always said downtown is like the living room of your house. And if you get that bad impression of your living room, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the house looks like.”