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Blooming brilliance

FRANKLIN LIVING— When spring has sprung, a delight for many is getting back outdoors and getting their hands and their hearts into their passion for gardening.

This is certainly true in Russellville, where members of the Cultura Garden Club are focused not only on cultivating beautiful blooms in their own gardens but on beautifying the entire city with gorgeous growing things. For many of these women – about 20 who meet monthly except in the summer – gardening has been a lifelong love.

“I’ve always liked planting out in the yard with my mom,” said Susie Hovater Malone, who has been a Garden Club member for more than 30 years. “It’s just a good pastime. It’s good therapy; it just gives you time while you’re planting to think about things. I get my thoughts together and think about new ideas and brainstorm.”

While some might look at the soil and the sun, the watering and the weeding and see only hard work, Malone isn’t the only one who finds her flower garden provides a place of peace. “I enjoy being outside, and I enjoy seeing the fruits of my labor,” explained Martha Sibley, who keeps her outdoor space beautiful through teamwork with husband Don. “When the plants start coming out and blooming in the spring, and the grass is green and the flowers are blooming – it’s just a beautiful sight to see.

“My favorite season is summer when all the plants are blooming,” Sibley added. “Christmas, of course, is always a fun time too, but really working in the pots and all – that’s what I really enjoy.”

For these fervent gardeners, the joy doesn’t end when the flowers are in full bloom in their lawns or landscaping. Many of them find their greatest pleasure in cut flower arrangements they create for themselves or to share with others.

“I love to see a seed grow from a tiny seed into a flowering plant,” said Brenda Oliver, who first joined the Garden Club about 40 years ago. “Just about any time of the year, I can go out in my yard and find something I can make an arrangement with – without having to go out and buy anything. I love to make arrangements and put them in my house or make them for someone else.” Fellow flower-lover Judy Baker said she feels the same. “I love to have fresh-cut flowers in the house, and I keep them at least seven or eight months out of the year from the yard. I don’t have to buy them because there are usually plenty of them in the yard.”

Malone, a retired teacher, also enjoys fresh-cut arrangements in her home – “It makes everything so fresh, and the flowers smell so good” – and she will also use her expertise to help create centerpieces for the First Baptist Church Homecoming. “I love decorating. I like to decorate for just about every season that comes along, inside or outside.”

Malone said gifting an arrangement can be such a thoughtful gesture, which is an area where Oliver particularly shines. “She makes beautiful flower arrangements, and she doesn’t think anything about carrying them to someone’s house or to the nursing home,” said Malone. “It just brightens up a person’s day. It’s a good way of spreading cheer.”

For Oliver, a retired teacher whose husband is former Russellville mayor Troy Oliver, knockout roses are her favorite flower “because you can make a pretty bouquet with them and it will last and last and last and last.” She said she also loves azaleas and snowball bushes.

Hydrangeas are a favorite for Baker, who treasures her yard full of perennials that bloom year after year without much work. She credits her 63-year-old house’s first occupants for her flower fortune. “Dr. Pritchard owned the house and built the house. They had four sons, and his wife must have had those boys out in the yard every day. I have daffodils and daylilies that come up every year, and I have tons of irises,” said Baker, who is a retired teacher, as is husband Wade Baker. “In the spring, I’m really in bloom.”

Like Malone, many of the Cultura Garden Club members first found their passion for flowers through gardening alongside their mothers. “When I was little, Mother let me have a little corner of the vegetable garden,” Oliver recalled. “She gave me some seeds, and I planted them, and my corner came up first.” Her mother told her she had green thumb, and “that was probably when I first got interested.” Sibley also looked to her mother for her first gardening lessons. “My mother Kitty Earline Hardin was a huge gardener in Moulton,” said Sibley, who retired from the health department after 29 years. “I would garden with her, and she would try to teach me how to do things. We mainly got started together with daylilies – she was known as the lily lady in Lawrence County. She gave me so many of my flowers from her yard. That’s where I got my start, from her. She was so enthusiastic about it, if you were around her, it just rubbed off on you.”

With such a heritage from their mothers, finding a passion for flowers by learning it from someone else, it’s perhaps no surprise these women and others with similar passions would find an opportunity to come together and be in community thanks to their shared love for gardening.

“It has really built a lot of friendships over the years,” said Malone of the Cultura club, which began and was federated in 1951. “We are really close, and we have our times to get together.” Sibley shared similar sentiments about spending time with other club members – “people I might have never known or had fellowship with if I hadn’t been in the Garden Club. That’s been real treat.”

“We’re all friends. We meet together as a group, and there’s all kinds of people in our group – people from all walks of life,” Oliver added. She said she has enjoyed seeing the group grow and become more proactive over the years.

Oliver said the first pots the Garden Club did in downtown Russellville – which remains a staple club project to this day – were ones that had been confiscated by the sheriff’s department in a drug bust. Club members bought paint to spruce up all the terracotta pots, while Extension director Katernia Cole furnished soil and Oliver sourced some dirt from a lake near her house. “We put all kinds of dirt in those pots to fill them up.” The club bought little shrubs for each pot and then added flowers – although the shrubs later turned out to be less than ideal. “Some of the shrubs got so big that the ones that survived we planted at City Hall and the A.W. Todd Center,” Oliver said. “They got so big the pots would tip over on a windy day because they were top heavy.”

In addition to flowered fellowship and learning new gardening topics, Garden Club members are committed to its cause of community beautification.

“We’re really proud to be able to do things downtown,” said Malone. “We have fundraisers, and it’s a lot of work. It gives us pride in our community and in our town … It’s a good service for our area – something that we can give back to our community.” Sibley agreed, noting the community involvement aspect as a primary draw for her to join the club. “I wanted our town to be pretty and wanted to people to enjoy living here and raising their families here,” Sibley said.

“The more we can do for our community – the payment is knowing that our town is a better place to live in because it looks prettier,” Oliver agreed, noting “the satisfaction in knowing you have made the world a better place to live in.”

Garden Club membership is by invitation only and is limited to 25 members. Malone said any interested prospective members can contact any current member to learn more.