History of the Garden Club - Staff & Tom Hayden
History of the Garden Club
November 24, 2020
Tracing the roots of Cape Coral’s growth can literally and figuratively be found in a “garden.”
One of the first clubs to organize in the community was the Cape Coral Garden Club. The club got an organizational push from the community’s first club, the Cape Coral Women’s Club, which started in 1959 and was the idea of first resident Kenny Schwartz. The Women’s Club believed a garden club was needed in the community.
In the spring of 1960, Helen Johnson, of the Everglades Nursery, spoke to a group of Cape Coral residents at the Nautilus Inn about gardening. That talk inspired about 68 people, spearheaded by residents Helen and Otto Sheldon and Dick and Sally Crawford, to form the garden club under the direction of first president Thomas Fleming.
The group’s bylaws provided the direction:
“To stimulate a knowledge and love of gardening.”
“To improve and conserve the beauty of Cape Coral.”
The launch of the club also inspired land developers, Gulf American Corporation, to film the start of a beautification mission, which still exists today.
In 1961, Ann Copenhaver took over as president of the club, which had annual dues of $1.50. The dues bought residents advice from gardening experts and horticulturists on the proper ways to prepare soil and to plant or the right techniques to create a beautifully landscaped yard.
Later, the group also collected funds that purchased gardening books for the Cape Coral Public Library and Caloosa Middle School. Members also planted trees and created a project, called the “forest,” between Cape Coral Hospital and the middle school.
The club had members who were gardening experts. For instance, Daisy Shepard specialized in hibiscus varieties and Madge York knew everything about orchids. And there was not a question too difficult for Bill Norton, who was known as the club’s “answer man,” according to Cape Coral Breeze articles.
Cape gardening stayed true to its roots with the formation of the non-profit Garden Club of Cape Coral in 1997. The club was founded by master gardener Marty Ward and longtime gardening friend Beverly Ray. The 23 paid members had their first meetings at Ward’s home under the direction of president Sherie Bleiler. The club quickly established affiliations with the National Garden Clubs Inc., and the Fort Myers-Lee County Garden Council Inc.
As club membership grew, meetings were moved to a local church and then to the Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral.
The club participated in many projects, including planting and maintaining planters along Cape Coral Parkway and maintaining the Tiny Tots Garden for children at Four Freedoms Park.
The group also has an important part of history on its side. It maintains the prestigious Rose Garden at the Cape Coral Museum of History on Cultural Park Boulevard.
The roses were originally part of a national tourist attraction, called Cape Coral Gardens, which also included the famous Waltzing Waters, lakes and water ski shows, plus hosted many celebrities such as Bob Hope. The garden included more than 40,000 roses. The attraction, facing funding issues, closed in 1969, giving way to development. It is now the site of Tarpon Point.
But the roses were soon to bloom again. In 1990, Lois Herbert wanted to pay tribute to the memory of her father, Russell Herbert, and asked the museum if it would be willing to pay tribute to him and to the roses. A new rose garden was dedicated in front of the museum on Memorial Day 1991. The garden was redesigned in 2007 with raised flower beds. A team of garden club members visit the rose garden to take care of the precious flowers.
The Garden Club continues to educate the community about important landscaping and environmental techniques through various events and in a weekly column found in the Cape Coral Breeze.
Submitted by Tom Hayden, a Cape Coral Museum of History board member. As we celebrate 50 years as a city, much of our area’s history, chronicled at the museum, will be featured twice a month in similar articles provided to the Cape Coral Breeze.