At 60 years of age, the Lemon Bay Garden Club is one of Englewood’s oldest service clubs. From it’s first days, it has been involved in endless community projects such as landscaping for Elsie Quirk Library, the Lemon Bay Cemetery, several schools, the Hermitage artist colony, and Englewood’s own fire house.
The gardener who is credited with the formation of the Garden Club was, in fact, named Bess Gardner. She and her husband relocated here from Connecticut in the late 1950s. She was surprised to find Englewood without a garden club.
Bess was a woman of many talents. She had retired after 30 years with McCalls Needlework Publications where she was editor. One of her passions was gardening and she was a past president of the New Milford Garden Club in Connecticut.
Bess soon became acquainted with several local ladies who shared her love of gardening. They too were mystified as to why, in this glorious tropical Florida setting — where so many unusual plants can be grown — there was no garden club. They talked about the need for one.
But those gals did more than talk. Organization was Bess’ forte and she had the experience of how a garden club works. Along with six other women who were willing to dedicate time and energy to such a project, a club was formed.
“We officially organized a Garden Club in February, 1959,” said Bess Gardner.
By 1963 members numbered 57, today the club has 110 active members.
Some of the purposes of the club, which still hold true today, were to stimulate interest in gardening, protect native plants, solve garden problems for club members, encourage community landscape projects and school programs.
Looking back, here are two of the many ambitious projects the club took on.
In 1960, their first community project was a road beautification program. It started at Ainger’s Store — today Gulf Coast Hardware — and went to Woods Cocktail Lounge, a.k.a., Whiskey Corners. Today, that location is the intersection of State Road 776 and Placida Road (County Road 775).
Silk oaks, oleanders, ixoras, and oaks were planted. Cocos plumosa palms were one of the highlights of the landscaping. The “Road Gang,” as the ladies who did the physical work were called, planned for three red hibiscus to be planted in between the palm trees.
Residents and businesses alike made donations. Haste Nursery gave 200 pounds of fertilizer. The fire department helped with watering.
The L.A. Ainger family, the Wellington Quirks, Anglers Resort, the Michigan Club, and the William and Alfred Vanderbilts were just a few of the locals who supported the project with money and donations of plants. Altogether, more than 400 trees and shrubs were planted.
It was a very successful community project. The club was also credited with inspiring many homes and businesses to do some landscaping. Soon the Texaco Station was bragging about their fine bed of petunias.
Sarasota County complimented the club. The Venice Gondolier newspaper wrote it was, “an energetic project to beautify the bald spots around town.”
In 1968, the club took on an even larger project, one with a lasting legacy for Englewood: the creation of Indian Mound Park. Sarasota County had purchased the 10 acre site for a park in 1964 but left the property undeveloped. It became a dumping ground and worse, the mound itself was being looted.
The ladies of the club instigated the county to start developing the site by first collecting a petition with 2000 names supporting the project. A club member, Lucile Kissack, a licensed landscape architect, drew a purposed plan for the park. The club presented it to the county and it was approved.
With the help and support of other groups in town work on the park started. The mound then was nothing but wild vegetation, a true Florida Hammock. The ladies put in endless hours of tough labor clearing through the solid brambles, tangles, palmettos and poison ivy. Members who met at 6:45 each morning armed with hoes and clippers were labeled “The Dawn Patrol.” Eventually, the ladies, keeping the natural wild beauty of the park, saved and identified over 50 native plants and made a trail over the mound itself.
Today the community continues to reap the benefits of the foresight the club had in seeing that the park, “If developed would be a real assent to our community and the entire south county area,” as J.N. Scott, the president of the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, said at the time.
In 1980, the club purchased a former 40-year-old Church of God building on the corner of Yale and Cedar streets for a clubhouse. Interestingly enough, to help with the purchase, 10 members gave loans totaling $18,000. Their property today is beautifully landscaped and includes a delightful butterfly garden. It is a joy to visit and projects examples of what can be grown in your own yard.
Happy birthday to The Lemon Bay Garden Club, one of Englewood’s many wonderful service clubs that contribute so much to the community.