GARDENING: Austin’s oldest garden club grows friendships among flowers


Members of the Violet Crown Garden Club in Austin are quite proud to be a part of such a long-standing organization.

“We are the oldest garden club in Austin. Yes, we are,” says Velia Sanchez-Ruiz, president of the group.

As well, it is one of the oldest garden clubs in Texas, according to the group’s website at www.violetcrowngardenclub.org.

“It is prestigious in the state,” said Dolores Rumpf, 79, a member since 1994. The club is a member of the National Garden ClubsInc., and Texas Garden Clubs, Inc.

The club was organized in 1924 by Clara Driscoll Sevier — “a civic-minded, dedicated lady of great charm and ability” — who invited “several friends, both men and women, and a few townspeople, to a meeting in her home at Laguna Gloria to discuss plans for developing community interest and skills in gardening,” according to a “Club History, 1924-1995” by Bette Millis.

The club, federated in 1928, was named after the well-known phrase used by writer O. Henry referring to Austin as the “City of the Violet Crown.”

Through the decades, the club has undertaken many projects, including initiating the building of the Austin Area Garden Center at Zilker Botanical Garden.

“The story of the Garden Center starts in 1946 when the Violet Crown Garden Club set aside $50 earned from the sale of firewood, to initiate a building project. The club immediately organized and sponsored fund-raising events to add to the initial donation,” according to the Zilker Botanical Garden website. From there, the project grew, and the building was completed in 1964.

Other projects over the years have included planting crepe myrtles around the city, starting Junior Garden Clubs in schools and staging a flower show “on the Fourth of July as a Bicentennial gift to Austin,” club history notes.

At one point, according to the history, “Mrs. J. Frank Dobie, Conservation Chairman, showed great concern over the scarcity of the Blue Bell, a gentian indigenous to the East and parts of West Texas … Through the efforts of Mrs. Dobie, work began in earnest to save the ‘Blue Bell’ and all other endangered species. Violet Crown Garden Club won State and National awards and a special citation of commendation on “Saving the ‘Blue Bell’” and was presented with the Green Award at the State Convention in 1945.”

Harriet Houston, 82, has been a club member the longest, since 1963, according to club records. She recalls many of fund-raising for projects.

“We did an awful lot of cake baking,” for bake sales, Houston said. She has enjoyed her many years in the club because, “We’ve had so many fantastic people come in, and (they) taught us different things,” she says. She keeps coming back, she says, because she enjoys “flowers, flowers, flowers … and friends, friends, friends.”

To boot, she says, at the meetings, “We sometimes have some fantastic food here.” Sanchez-Ruiz joined in 2004 with her sister-in-law, Ruth Ruiz, after retiring as a teacher. To become certified as a landscape designer, Sanchez-Ruiz said, she needed to join a club affiliated with National Garden Clubs.

“I walked in and have been here ever since,” says Sanchez-Ruiz, 75. “I wanted to learn every aspect of nature.”

Ruth Ruiz, 81, says she joined because “I retired, and I was looking for something to do.” Though she’s not a big gardener, she says, she wanted to socialize.

Sandra Holt, 79, joined in 1998, at the encouragement of her neighbor, Harriet Houston.

As well, “It was an interest I had,” Holt says.

Currently, the Violet Crown Garden Club has 37 members, Sanchez-Ruiz said. The group would love to attract more members, though.

“Anybody who walks through that door, they are going to be more than welcome,” Sanchez-Ruiz says. She has tried “to recruit new, younger members, and I have,” she said, though it can be difficult because “young people are still working.”

One new member, Deana Dossey, 50, joined less than a year ago because “I wanted to do something positive, … and I really love plants.” She’s been learning, she says.

“I’ve always had a little bit of a black thumb,” she says, but, “It’s getting greener.”

The club has monthly meetings, September through May. Meetings include programs about various topics, such as violets, pot de fleur, national parks and recycling. Oftentimes the topics cover floral design and judging for flower shows.

In fact, the club has a strong emphasis on flower shows, with recent programs on subjects such as holiday designs and simple steps to design success.

“I don’t garden,” Rumpf says. “I don’t grow anything.” However, she participates in flower shows.

The club also goes on occasional field trips (such as an upcoming excursion to a nursery). Also, it puts on two flower shows each year — in the spring and the fall, says Holt, who helps to organize the shows.

“We try to come up with an original theme for each show,” Holt says.

Its most recent flower show, called “Only in Austin,” was part of the Zilker Garden Festival.

“It went very well,” Sanchez-Ruiz says. “The judges were very impressed.”

The club’s longevity can be attributed in part because it “offers a variety of things to do. Not only is it about gardening, it is about flower designs,” Sanchez-Ruiz says. “We do have fun.”



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