Columbia Heights Garden Club
By Rebecca Ebnet-Desens
Whether we look to the Garden of Eden, the paradise garden of Darius the Great, or the Zen garden form featured at temples, people have always adapted and tamed the foliage around them in one manner or another. Enclosed gardens emerged about 10,000 BC and the idea of landscaping moved from Western Asia and eventually spread westward into Greece, Spain, Germany, France, and Britain.
Something special happens in a garden—the world falls away as hands dig into soil, the gentle buzz of bees pollinating plants adds to the percussive rustle of leaves in the wind. The work completed, we sink into the bench and give a satisfied nod as we sip our drink, finally able to enjoy the artistry around us. In Minnesota especially, the spring creates a rush of excitement as we push carts of optimism through rows of bedding plants at the nursery or accept offers of hostas and rhubarb over the back fence. We let our vision of perfection reign, tamping down the dark reality of weeding through clouds of mosquitoes and humidity. Regardless of the outcome, we must cultivate our need to grow, giving a voice to the farmer in all our hearts.
Naturally, sharing information about our gardens creates social centers of trading information, tips and tricks, as well as helping the newbie along their path. According to an article by Lucy Leah Redwine in “Garden Gateways” Yearbook, 1935-'36, the first Ladies Garden Club began in Athens, Georgia in 1891. Led by Mrs. E. K. Lumpkin, the 12-member organization soon “threw open” membership to the Club and “every lady in the city who might be interested in learning to grow anything ‘from a cabbage to a chrysanthemum’ was invited to join”. From there, the idea of a garden club spread rapidly through the south. Its members arranged flower shows, demonstrations, lectures, and other entertainment.
In Anoka County, similar organizations began to sprout and in time, members began to advocate for roadside beautification, wartime Victory Gardens, and anti-littering campaigns. The Anoka County Historical Society has a collection of items from the Columbia Heights Garden Club, including brochures, records, and scrapbooks. One of the articles saved is written by O.H. Prestemon in a column entitled, “Prestemon’s Points.” A portion of this undated item is reprinted below, as it discusses conservation in Anoka County, probably in the 1940s.
…Up at Carlos Avery Game Refuge, in our own county, the state project is under the supervision of Captain Dorr and I’ll guarantee that if your soul isn’t dead, a 15 minute conversation with him will make you a conservationist; you will see visions of a Minnesota transformed into something more nearly like it was when it had 31 million acres of virgin forests and before greedy lumber barons denuded the state and created in its stead a crop of millionaires. You will have a vision of a climate profoundly influenced by trees “breathing” their moisture into the parched, harsh atmosphere; you’ll see the sub-soil water level rise, creating fertility in arid areas; streams, now dry, will run and babble again; lakes come back to their original level; soil erosion will be controlled, the fertile top soil which is required centuries to form, will stay in
Minnesota instead of forming a Mississippi delta in the Gulf of Mexico.
Prestemon goes on to explain their partnerships with state and local nurseries in preparation for the Columbia Heights Garden Club to begin a nursery of their own, located “on a hill south of the railroad track in the park.” The Club would supply between 500 and 600 seedlings in the first year while simultaneously planting seeds from which they would take cuttings. They requested “anyone having such seedlings around their places should save them for transplanting into the nursery, thereby helping the project along.”
The Columbia Heights Garden Club, like other garden clubs in the county past and present, held a flower and vegetable show for many years. Prizes in 1943 included ribbons, cash of five dollars for the grand prize, and smaller denominations for ranking within the different classes. For the record, Mrs. O.H. Prestemon was “high individual winner” in 1947, having received 11 first awards, four second, and three third.