Columbus Garden Club
History Highlights of the Columbus Garden Club
The Columbus Garden Club, an offshoot of the Columbus Study Club’s Garden Club Committee, first met on Monday, May 4, 1936 at the Colorado County Court Room. Mrs. Edgar Litzmann was elected president and members chose a fall flower show and beautiful yard contest for their first projects. The 17 in attendance set dues at 50 cents per year and voted to meet monthly on the first Monday at four pm in the County Court Room.
Highlights during those early years included a twilight tea at Fitzpatrick’s Sunken Garden (September 1940), federation with national and state garden clubs (1941), educational programs at monthly meetings, plant exchanges (first recorded in March 1942), and annual flower shows (344 visitors signed in for the first show on May 15, 1937). In January 1944, The Club was disbanded for the duration of World War II. The Club reorganized February 17, 1947. Membership was changed to include active and associate status in 1950.
During the 1950s through the early 1980s, annual flower shows highlighted the garden club year. In the 1960s and 70s, The Club sponsored “Home Placement” flower shows in members’ homes. Annual flower show themes were as colorful as the shows themselves with titles like “Paris Flower Mart” (1953), “La Fiesta de las Flores” (1956), “The Farmer and the Dell” (1960), “Flowers Through the Years” (for the 25th club anniversary show in 1961), “Christmas Fantasy” (1963), or “Nostalgia on the Colorado” (1982). Flower show attendance peaked in 1950 for “Floral Airways of the World” when 500 signed the guest book. In 1982 only 66 signed in for the nostalgia show. The last flower show was offered in 1986. But, in May 2018 The Club planned and hosted a judged horticulture flower show “April Showers Bring May Flowers” at their officer’s installation program at First Methodist Church in Columbus. In April 2019 “April Showers Bring May Flowers” flower show was held at The American Legion Hall during The Club’s regularly scheduled meeting.
The Garden Club’s pilgrimages (field trips) were also established in the 1950s. Over the years, these trips have transported members to gardening, educational and fun sites in Houston, San Antonio, Navasota, Brenham, Austin, Galveston, Salado, LaGrange, Bellville, College Station, Richmond, Rosenberg and numerous other locations.
The Club’s 44-year history with the Tate-Seftenberg-Brandon House dates to Arbor Day 1965. Club president Katy Seymour purchased a magnolia tree for $15 and planted it for The Club in the left front yard. In 1969, The Club created floral arrangements to decorate the Brandon House and other homes shown by the Magnolia Homes Tour. In 1969-71, The Club helped maintain the Brandon House yard. In 1975 and 1983, The Club held flower shows at the Brandon House. In 1981 The Club planted a pink magnolia for Arbor Day at the Brandon House (sadly, it did not survive). And it was in 1979 that The Club first decorated the Brandon House for the Magnolia Homes Tour’s Christmas Open House and continued for 30 years until 2009 when The Club decorated the Dilue Rose-Harris House and has been decorating it for the Christmas Open House ever since. The Club has also hosted Columbus, Eagle Lake, Sheridan and Garwood elementary school children at the houses as a special event. In December of 2019 The Club celebrated 40 years of decorating historic homes in Columbus with a three-day exhibit (in cooperation with Columbus Historical Preservation Trust, Nesbitt Memorial Library, and with Columbus Chamber of Commerce) at Nesbitt Memorial Library that included mannequins dressed in period costumes; club members dressed in costume; scrapbooks through the years; display boards with enlarged pictures of Christmas decorations at the Brandon House, Dilue Rose-Harris House, and Alley Log Cabin; and a Victorian village that was put together in 2007 by club members. J. L. Obenhaus dressed in costume to demonstrate cooking in the late 1800s. The Santa Claus museum, Dilue Rose-Harris house, and Alley log cabin were open for three days for the public and for third grade students to tour.
In 1992, The Club established a public plant sale. In 2000, The Club’s annual plant sale and bake sale became so successful that The Club established a scholarship fund and has since awarded one or more scholarships annually. On Saturday April 29, 2017 club members and Brookshire Bros. celebrated 25 years of having the plant and bake sale at the store location. The 2020-21 Scholarship (given in the 2019-20 garden club year) celebrated the 20th year of giving a scholarship to a high school senior.
Long part of the Columbus Garden Club history, its beautification projects and plantings abound. On February 2, 1957, The Club, along with the Texas State Highway Department, sponsored the Blue Star Memorial Marker Dedication in honor of armed service men and women. February 2017 The Club along with military veterans, public officials and the community recognized 60 years of that memorial on the courthouse square. Maintaining that plot on the northeast corner of the courthouse square has been an ongoing project since 1988. In May 2019 the Blue Star Memorial Marker was beautifully restored and the garden plot at the site was replanted through a CCIDC grant. Beason’s Park was dedicated in 1995 and The Club maintained a plot there until 2014. In 2017 The Club marker at Beason’s Park was removed from that location, inscribed with the date of the formation of Columbus Garden Club and then placed on the northwest corner of the courthouse square. The courthouse square was chosen because the first meeting of The Club was in the county courtroom of the Colorado County Courthouse.
In 2006 the Court Oak Garden, located adjacent to historic Colorado County Courthouse Square, was planted and in 2009-2011 it became a focus garden for “Plant it Pink”. In 2007-2008 the Garden Club received grants to beautify the Courthouse Square with benches, banners and planters; installed a butterfly garden and a Live Oak Street Garden at Midtown Park; and installed a rose pocket garden at Welcome Park at the city entrance. The Club assisted the Girl Scouts in installing a pocket garden at the Mansfield Memorial Library Building. In 2010 the Columbus Community Park – Montezuma Street garden was planted. In 2014 the butterfly garden at Midtown Park was recognized as an official butterfly garden by the North American Butterfly Association. In 2020 the garden was certified as a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch. In 2018 the city of Columbus completed a Visitor’s Center at the corner of Travis and Hwy 90/Walnut and Columbus Garden Club designed and landscaped the area around the Center with blooming plants, shrubs and trees. In 2020 The Club received a $400 grant from the Texas Native Plant Society for the “Bring Back the Monarchs to Texas” program. The grant was used to purchase milkweeds and other Texas native plants that support the butterfly’s life cycle to be planted at the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center garden area was certified as a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch.
Other beautification or tree planting sites through the years include (but are not limited to) the Mansfield Memorial Library, Columbus Cemetery, American Legion grounds, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Columbus Convalescent Home, Columbus Water Treatment Plant, Veterans Community Center, Columbus Fire Station, Colorado County Courthouse Square, City Softball Park, Nesbitt Library, the junior high, senior high, and elementary schools, Marley Gibbens Gym at Columbus High School, Midtown Park, County Tax Assessor’s office, municipal golf course, and Columbus Community Hospital. In 2014 members with a 50 year history with Columbus Garden Club were honored with an Arbor Day luncheon at Los Cabos Restaurant. Those members included Elrose Baumgart, Ginner Fehrenkamp, Ruby Litzmann, and Katy Seymour. A Little Gem Magnolia was planted in their honor in front of Columbus High School. In November 2017 The Club planted a Monterrey Oak at the site of the new Visitor’s Center honoring first responders during Hurricane Harvey. The Club’s Arbor Day plantings, first mentioned in the 1959 yearbook, have included pink magnolias, live oaks, Monterrey oaks, redbuds, crepe myrtles, southern red oak, a seeding from the Austin Treaty Oak, red maples, and evergreens. In 2014 three hundred seedling trees were acquired by the Garden Club and distributed throughout the community for planting to replace the many trees that did not survive the droughts of 2012-2013.
As far back as the very first club meeting a beautiful yard contest is mentioned. However, in the 1965-66 yearbook, The Club’s “Yard of the Month” program began recognizing individual homeowners and encouraging yard beautification. And, in Garden Club year 2007-2008, The Club began recognizing a “Business of the Month” to encourage landscaping and beautification in the business sector. In 2009 the Business of the Month award became known as Community Beautification Award. In the 2010-2011 year a Behind the Garden Gate project began with Spring and Fall tours of members’ gardens.
In addition to beautification projects, The Club has a long history of civic contributions. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, The Club contributed to a variety of charitable causes including Christmas gifts for the underprivileged, donations to Goree Prison, the Audubon Society, Aid to the Blind, and The Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation. The Club has contributed to the Columbus High School senior class all night party and to the Community Food Pantry. In 2009 The Club became involved in the Brookwood Community Garden Therapy Program in Brookshire, Texas. The Club continues to support a variety of charitable causes.
In 2007-2008 The Club launched a community project of co-sponsorship of the now annual “Columbus Trash Off Day” to clean up Columbus. In 2017 The Club observed its 10th year supporting this project. In 2009 as part of the Columbus Trash Off Day, The Club helped establish a recycling program at Columbus Elementary School by providing containers for recyclable items. In 2009-2010 a program of recycling print cartridges was established.
To show appreciation to members for many years of service and unable to participate like they have in the past, a new project called Golden Days was established during the 2009-2010 club year. This project has also been called “Especially for You”.
In November 2012 The Club participated in the first Columbus Fall Folk Fest by decorating the Courthouse Square and areas of the festival with pumpkins, scarecrows, fall flowers and foliage, and inaugurating a fall decorating contest for homeowners and businesses. In imminent danger of the Colorado River flooding, in 2013 The Club decorated for the Columbus Fall Folk Fest at the Colorado County Fairgrounds. In 2015 the Columbus Fall Folk Fest was discontinued however, The Club continued decorating the courthouse square for the fall season. In May 2018 The Club decorated the courthouse square with Magnolia swags on the lamp posts, on the gazebo, and large pots of plants and magnolias decorated each corner for the Magnolia Days Festival. The Club participated in the festival by providing a children’s game booth and a garden club booth. Since 2014 The Club has decorated the main entrance to the Colorado County Fair which is a county-wide event held each fall. In 2018 The Club decorated a float for the Colorado County Fair parade in downtown Columbus.
After an extensive historic restoration of the Colorado County Courthouse, in 2014 The Club was asked to participate, along with garden clubs from Eagle Lake and Weimar, in making flower arrangements to be placed throughout the courthouse during its grand rededication. In honor of that event, Columbus Garden Club also planted red, white and blue flowers around the Blue Star Memorial and in planters on the north and west sides of the courthouse.
In 2014 the continuous growth of Columbus Garden Club prompted The Club to organize a mentoring program pairing new members with a long-time member to help guide and encourage new members to be involved in the many opportunities available to serve the community in gardening education and beautification.
A highlight of 2016 was The Club receiving Club of the Year, Gold Category, in District IV – Coastal Prairie Council of Texas Garden Club. In 2018 The Club was nominated for Chamber of Commerce recognition as Volunteer of the Year. In 2019 The Club again was nominated and was recognized as Columbus Volunteer of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. In 2019 The Club received the first William C. Welch National Award for designing the plantings around the Columbus Visitor Center. For the club year 2020-2021 a number of prestigious awards were won including: National Garden Clubs Overall Winner for Decoration of Historic Bldg. During that same year the club also won First Place in Texas Garden Clubs for the Newsletter - Single Sheet, History Publication, National Garden Week, Decoration of Historic Bldg., and Community Gardens.
The Columbus Garden Club’s history has been formally celebrated on a number of occasions. The 1960-61 club year included a 25th Anniversary Silver Tea honoring past presidents and “golden age ladies.” The 50th club year was celebrated in May 1986 with a luncheon at The Falls Resort and Club in New Ulm. In October 2006, The Club celebrated its 70th anniversary and honored its past presidents with a lovely luncheon at the Live Oak Art Center in Columbus. The 75th anniversary was recognized at the Live Oak Art Center in May 2011 celebrating “Columbus Garden Club Through the Decades”. The celebration included a luncheon catered by Schobel’s Restaurant, table decorations depicting the 1930s to the 2000s, members dressed in apparel of the decades, and an installation service that included famous personalities and costumes from the decades. The 80th anniversary was celebrated May 4, 2016 at First Baptist Church with a garden party theme where members wore garden party hats. A rose ceremony highlighted the installation service and the proclamation for The Club’s 80th birthday was read by Mayor Dwain Dungen. Other city officials, Houston Federation of Garden Clubs President Mary Vacek and Dist. IV Director Nancy Giffhorn attended the celebration.
In February 2020 a pandemic (Covid-19) spread through the United States and the world. Many businesses, organizations, and events were closed down or cancelled. The Club cancelled March, April, May and September meetings including the planned flower show, annual plant sale, and May installation meeting. The Club officers and members remained in touch through monthly newsletters highlighting activities that were able to continue. The club continued maintaining garden areas, decorating for the 2020 Colorado County Fair, and decorating for the 2020 Fall season on the courthouse square during this time and in October 2020 the club began meeting together monthly once again since the pandemic shutdown. The meetings continued to be at First Methodist Church. Members wore masks and social distanced. The 2020 Christmas Tasting Luncheon was modified to include picnic lunches and safety precautions. No pilgrimage was planned for the 2020-2021 year but other activities such as plant sale, National Garden Week observance, and Installation luncheon were once again held.
Toni M. Burns, Historian 2006-2010
Velma Harrington, Historian 2010-2021