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History of The Hillside Garden Club 


History of The Hillside Garden Club 

Hillside Garden Club owes its modest beginnings to Mrs. Julia File and Mrs. Frances Dirom, two young garden-loving friends, who lived across the street from each other on Woodridge Place in Lynchburg and often took a rest time together under an oak tree in Frances’ yard.  One day in the mid 1930s, they invited a few friends to join them.  Today no one remembers who participated in those early gatherings, but the club’s first formal minutes, recorded in July of 1935, reflect a membership of twenty-five.  


Christened the Junior Garden Club at that first meeting, the club soon recognized the complications such a name would present as its members aged.  Before the club adjourned its second formal meeting in the city of seven hills, it had become Hillside Garden Club

The Hillside Garden Club

established 1935


During the sad year of 1942, war gardens became the chief concern.  The garden at Point of Honor Playgrounds was taken over; the annual Christmas Tour was not held, but members brought presents for soldiers. 


Throughout the war years, the spring and summer meetings were turned into Red Cross work periods, and much time was given in the city garden at the playground and toward other war efforts. 


In 1953, sponsored by the Lynchburg Garden Club, Blue Ridge Club of Lexington, and Mill Mountain Club of Roanoke, Hillside became a member of the Garden Club of Virginia.  At the same time, the club raised its membership to 50 and changed the start of the official year to April.

During the later 1950s, Hillside took on the beautification of the garden on the grounds of the Lynchburg Nursing Home on Federal Street and the improvement of a shopping area on Rivermont Avenue.  The club also established the custom of planting a tree somewhere in the city as a memorial to a deceased member and initiated the practice of sending young people to Nature Camp each year.


On the grounds of Virginia Baptist Hospital, a garden in memory of Rosalie Loving was created in 1968.  Landscaped and planted by her husband and Edward Hickson, and financed by club members and other friends, this garden is a fitting memorial for a good horticulturist.  Many of the plants in it came from Rosalie's own garden.



The highlight of 1970 was the beginning of the renovation of the greenhouse at the Dabney-Scott-Adams House on Cabell Street.  


This handsome family home was given to the Lynchburg Historical Foundation by Annie Harris Robertson, a charter member.  Owing to the dedicated leadership of Bessie Sackett and Frances Hodges, the greenhouse stood in perfect condition and was filled with bloom by year’s end.        




In 1980, the Lynchburg Garden Club and Hillside assumed responsibility to help the City keep the grounds of Point of Honor in shape. 


The aviary in Miller Park became a Virginia Historical Landmark in 1980, and the local council of Garden Clubs undertook its restoration and care.  Hillside restored one of the aviary’s windows.  At Westminster-Canterbury, later in the year, the club began a garden attractive to birds and visible to the patients in the Health Center. 


In 1941, at the Spring Flower show of the Lynchburg Council, Hillside captured first prize for a floral hooked rug made largely of pansies.  This award was the first such honor for the club. 



In 1944 in true garden club spirit, a prize was awarded to the 6 members having perfect attendance; the prize was a load of manure! 


In 1946, a Garden Quiz was constructed by Mrs. W. W. Lynn.  The erudite Mrs. Dillard won a bale of peat moss for an “A” performance. These ladies were certainly hands-on gardeners!

In 1946, the club added to its civic work by cooperating with the local council in the establishment of the Hollins Mill Road Native Park and the restoration of the Quaker Memorial Cemetery.


The Club supported the Lynchburg Garden Club’s project to plant hundreds of dogwood trees in public gardens and private lawns. In the late 1940s, Mary Spencer Craddock was pictured in the newspaper planting kudzu alongside Hollins Mill Road, in a beautification effort. That work is evident today!




In March, 1954, Hillside’s first joint meeting with the Lynchburg Club convened to discuss Historic Garden Week, and thus began a cooperative practice that has done much to make Garden Day in Lynchburg a premier event statewide. 



The Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) published A Garden Potpourri in 1963. Poems by seven Hillside members appeared in that collection.


On July 9, 1969, Hillside met at Nature Camp for the dedication of another memorial, one celebrating the club’s founding president, Frances Dirom, whose death occurred in 1967. 


The Dirom Memorial takes the inviting form of a picnic area furnished with rustic tables and benches.  Its centerpiece, a birdbath made by Frances’ husband Guy, replicates one at the Dirom home. 


Soon thereafter, Hillside donated several thousand dollars to design and plan a major traffic island at Memorial Avenue and Langhorne Road.



At the 1973 meeting of the Garden Club of Virginia, Frances Hodges and Bessie Sackett were honored with the presentation of the Horticultural Award of Merit.  


The award’s citation reads: “For the joint effort of two dedicated women, whose love of growing has surmounted difficulties which would have deterred most of us, but who achieved success by hard work, enthusiasm, and perseverance.” 


That same year, the club voted to continue the maintenance of the greenhouse and added care of the grounds to that commitment.  Hillside supported the effort until the house became the property of the City of Lynchburg.


Among the most important projects to unfold during the club’s first half-century is the restoration of the garden of the Anne Spencer House on Pierce Street, beginning in 1983. Led by Nell Holt and Jane White, this undertaking revitalized the grounds and garden of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer.  Her home is both a Virginia Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and recorded in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Beyond the hundreds of hours invested in research, planning, and gardening, Hillside also contributed more than $8,000 toward the garden’s restoration. The total value of the work done there was over $20,000, which included numerous in-kind gifts of labor and materials from club members and the community.


Hillside received the 1985 Common Wealth Award of $6,000 from the Garden Club of Virginia, spurring the club to complete the project and fund a $10,000 endowment to support its subsequent maintenance.  Of special significance is the fact that this garden is the only known restored garden of an African American in existence.





A decision to make the Old City Cemetery a primary project in 1993 led Susan Mullin to donate trees from her tree nursery as part of the grounds rehabilitation.


The cemetery continues to be a place for fresh ideas, new programs and gardens that provide opportunities to volunteer both as administrators, docents and gardeners while educating the public and enhancing the beauty of our community   



The club continued its commitment to the Old City Cemetery by allocating printing funds for new brochures, planting more trees and giving a much needed outdoor water fountain. Virginia Earley Holt gave the initial funds to establish the Earley Memorial Shrub Garden. A Common Wealth Award in 1996 of $5,000 facilitated building a gatehouse and expanded entry for the cemetery and attracted other in-kind contributions toward the $25,000 value of the project.  


Further support came when Virginia Holt donated the Stapleton Train Station building from her country property to the cemetery. “Pete” Lupton gave the funds to restore the historic station to its World War I era in honor of her daughter-in-law, Hillside member Leland Lupton.  The club celebrated a special day for its opening in which members dressed in period costume and planted a white oak tree near the station in honor of their founding members.



In recent years, the club has continued to embrace a variety of projects.  In 2006 it voted to support Lynchburg Grows, a non-profit organization founded in 2003, with a $10,000 donation from funds raised through volunteer participation at the Steeplechase held at Oakridge in Nelson County. Those funds helped Lynchburg Grows secure the property to move forward with its development as an organic food supplier.


The Awareness Garden, located at the Langhorne Road entrance to the Blackwater Creek Nature Trail, was dedicated in 2003 to those whose lives have been touched by cancer.  Hillside contributed both funds and planning expertise for its grounds.


In 2008 Hillside again became actively involved in restoration efforts for the Anne Spencer Garden, and in 2009, the club was once again the recipient of the Common Wealth Award for the Garden. 


The $10,000 award was used primarily for restoration of the fish pond and installation of audio information stations.  In 2010 Hillside donated $19,000 from its treasury and endowment funds for further restoration needs in the Garden.  Those funds, along with contributions from club members and friends of the garden, made possible the restoration of the grape arbor and wisteria pergola, which was completed in 2011. 

In April 2017, the Hillside Garden Club Memorial Garden was completed and dedicated at the Old City Cemetery, positioned between the Chapel, and the newly constructed Comfort House. Hillside Garden Club and individual members contributed $25,000 toward the completion of the Memorial Garden.




The signature event in 1995 was a special program held at Westminster Canterbury honoring the charter members of the club. Six of the original twenty-five enjoyed the day.



Both Sallie Terrell, a charter member, and the Aviary at Miller Park turned one hundred in 2001.  In celebration of the latter Melanie Christian led the way with a massive restoration of the Aviary that is widely enjoyed by civic groups for a variety of gatherings.


In 2007 the club published a book of flower arranging and garden tips, entitled A Year of Flowers; Growing, Arranging, Journaling, Enjoying, with proceeds earmarked in support of the club’s mission.



In 2010 and 2011, Hillside successfully hosted the annual Garden Club of Virginia Daffodil Show.  


The GCV Horticulture Award of Merit was awarded to members Susan Wright in 2012 for her work in the Anne Spencer Garden, Kris Lloyd in 2014 for her garden project at Bedford Hills Elementary School, and Janet Hickman in 2016 for her work in daffodil horticulture (including serving as GCV Daffodil Chairman), and in taking leadership to maintain the Anne Spencer Gardens. 

Hillside won its fourth GCV Common Wealth Award in 2016 for its initiative to create a tree garden for the restored Academy Center of Fine Arts building.

The fall of 2019 started off as usual for Hillside members.  We had a series of lovely fall meetings, welcomed new members, held our joint fall meeting with Lynchburg Garden Club, and had a wonderful Christmas party.  We were excited about the upcoming events in late spring of 2020 when the Garden Club of Virginia would be celebrating its 100th year.  However, by March of 2020, the Covid pandemic had reached us.  School children were sent home and spring breaks were canceled as was our March in person meeting.  But surely we would be back to “normal” by April?   Alas, as we now know, it was not to be and more and more events, including Lynchburg Garden Day 2020, were canceled.  School was canceled, work was canceled, and Hillside meetings were canceled and slowly we all learned how to do zoom instead.  By the fall of 2020, while we had learned more about vaccine development and the importance of PPE then we would have ever thought necessary, we had also learned all about online meeting formats.  We enjoyed speakers from around the country all from the comforts of our own homes and enjoyed glasses of wine in our breakout room chats whilst perhaps still in our PJs.  Still, we longed to be together in person somehow. 


The fall Board of Governors meeting was changed into smaller, localized, outdoor meetings by district.  The meeting for District 2, of which Hillside is a member, took place at the outdoor meeting space at Poplar Forest.  We followed this lead and donned our masks and did the occasional outside meetings too.  We also participated with Lynchburg Garden Club in several flash flower arrangements, bringing beauty and color to places like local bus stops, the front of the cancer center, and at the local high school.  In the spring, we helped at the Anne Spencer Garden and enjoyed our post work day lunch in the garden.  Hillside helped with Blue Ridge Conservation outdoor planting activities.  The annual meeting that year was all done in one day in an open air pavilion near Ashland, Virginia, complete with horticulture displays and a hilarious skit by the district at large representatives about zoom meetings.  We were nothing if not resilient and creative as we adapted to this “new normal.” 



Also in 2019, Blue Ridge Conservation was founded as a partnership of the Hillside and Lynchburg Garden Clubs.  The mission is to educate and inspire people and their communities to become stewards of the natural world through direct action and collaboration.   In 2021, the clubs received the Bessie Bocock Carter Award, from the Garden Club of Virginia for the establishment of pollinator beds on the Lynchburg Expressway, a project of BRC.



In 2021, the clubs received the Bessie Bocock Carter Award, from the Garden Club of Virginia for the establishment of pollinator beds on the Lynchburg Expressway, a project of Blue Ridge Conservation.

As of April 2023, some 92 club members have opened their homes and gardens for Lynchburg Garden Day over the years. Eight-plus decades and counting! This quick summary of Hillside’s history cannot really do justice to the substantial contributions made by the club at the local and state level.  Nor can it adequately describe the rich and enduring friendships that characterize the relationships among its members past and present, along with their shared sense of stewardship. Our challenge is to continue to be relevant in the decades to come. 




Mary Kathryn McIntosh, Historian, (2007), (Revised 2016)

Blair Rumney, Historian, (Updated 2019)

Sarah Hellewell, President (updated 2023)

Note: Minutes and archival records of Hillside Garden Club are housed at the Jones Memorial Library.

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