Reminisce: Growing a legacy: Looking back at Lima’s garden clubs

LIMA — The spring of 1915 was in sight when Lima’s Morning Star & Republican-Gazette announced the Civic League’s annual flower seed giveaway while doing a fair job of selling the idea of planting a garden.

“Have you heard the call of the dirt? Have you sniffed the soft air, bearing the promise of coming spring and hied you away to secure a seed catalog?” the newspaper asked in the Feb. 28, 1915 article.

“With the near approach of March wakes a latent desire to dig in the dirt, to plant seeds and to see things grow,” the newspaper wrote. “The planning of the new porch box and the contents thereof has suddenly become a matter of great moment. The geranium bed becomes a vital problem in every household. The trench of sweet peas, that may or may not rise six inches above the trench touches a chord of blissful, though uncertain, anticipation.”

Many in the area apparently answered the call of the dirt. Margaret Simpson, writing in The Lima Daily News in August 1919, noted that the city was home “to many lovely flower gardens … and scarce a home in the city, no matter how humble, but has its attractive garden spot.”

During lean times like the Great Depression and the world wars, the trench of sweet peas was more important than the geranium bed.

In May 1917, shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, the Lima Times-Democrat reported that the Boy Scouts would assist the Home Garden Club, comprised of about 250 south Lima families, in cultivating donated land near Fourth Street and St. Johns Avenue. Likewise, as the Great Depression tightened its grip on the country in the spring of 1931, a group called the Family Garden Committee offered free garden tracts for use by Lima’s jobless. The gardens were carved out of land donated by the city and businessmen, according to the Morning Star & Republican-Gazette.

In the years after World War I, organized garden clubs sprang up like flowers in the spring. The Lima Garden Club, formed nearly a century ago, was one of the first.

“Some 75 years ago, a group of women formed a club which was to become one the most popular in the area,” The Lima News wrote in March 1998. “Under the direction of Mrs. Marshall S. Thompson, the women joined forces and became the Lima Garden Club. That group, one of the oldest such clubs in Ohio, wanted to bring out the love of gardening among amateurs as well as protect native trees, plants and birds, and to encourage civic planting. Little did that early membership realize how popular the club would become. Within a short time, garden clubs were so popular on a statewide basis, that Thompson, with the help of Ohio State University Extension president Victor Ries, founded the Ohio Association of Garden Clubs.”

Other clubs followed — the Happy Hours club, the Forsythia club, the Fleur-de-Lis club, the Floral club, the Green Thumb club and many more. By the mid-1970s, according to The Lima News, there were 11 garden clubs in Allen County.

Mrs. Thompson, the force behind the formation of the Lima Garden Club and its president for a decade, was a fitting fountainhead. Her father-in-law, J.C. Thompson, a 77-year-old retired Lima merchant and banker, died in April 1919. “Death was due to injuries received when he fell from a fence while gathering wildflowers for his great-grandchildren. His hip was broken in the fall, and, because of his advanced age, he was unable to rally from the shock,” the Republican-Gazette reported at the time.

When her husband, businessman Marshall S. Thompson, died Sept. 29, 1926, a week after he was hit by a car at Main and High streets, Mrs. Thompson was left alone in the Shawnee Township home they had shared since about 1920. Known as Shadow Lawn, the rambling home set on seven wooded acres at the intersection of Shawnee and Adgate roads was the center of the Lima Garden Club’s universe for years.

“One of the most delightful social festivities of the week will be the annual picnic of the Garden club this afternoon at four o’clock at Shadow Lawn, the Shawnee estate of the president, Mrs. Marshall S. Thompson,” the Morning Star & Republican-Gazette wrote Aug. 12, 1931. After discussing the annual fall flower show, the newspaper added, “members and guests will enjoy a visit to the cool woodland rock garden and pool, where gorgeous varieties of water lilies are in bloom.”

By 1950, there were 100 members meeting regularly and, because this was considered too unwieldy, the membership was divided into two clubs, the original and the Westwood Garden Club, the News wrote in 1998. The membership also had outgrown meetings in members’ homes, so they moved into the Agriculture and Fine Arts building at the Allen County Fairgrounds.

Over the years, besides flower shows and workshops, the club worked to save the trees on the site of a new post office in 1928 and donated 400 trees to Lima residents to replace those ripped up by a tornado in 1950. At Christmas, they weave wreaths to decorate non-profit organizations.

In the early 1950s, the Lima Men’s Garden Club, which was organized in the late 1940s but had been inactive for several years, was revived. “The club was organized and chartered in 1953 because half a dozen fellows got together that liked flowers,” club member Jim Osborn told The Lima News in April 1986.

The men’s garden club, like the women’s club, contributed to civic beautification through the planting of flowers. Members annually appeared in the Town Square during the spring to add splashes of color to downtown. The club, which for years had a clubhouse in Faurot Park, also sponsored horticulture shows and scholarships for agriculture students, participated in Arbor Day activities at schools and judged home and commercial beautification contests.

In January 2002, the club underwent a change of name and membership requirement.

“In a move toward equality between the sexes in gardening, one local group has changed its 50-year-old name. On the first of the year, the Lima Men’s Garden Club officially became the Gardeners of Lima,” The Lima News wrote Jan. 2, 2002.

The club, The Lima News noted, had for the previous six years invited women to join the club. “An increasing percentage of the members in The Gardeners of Lima are women,” the club’s president told The Lima News. “It was time to recognize their importance by adopting a gender-neutral name.”