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Dixie Highway Garden Club turns 80

The Dixie Highway Garden Club celebrated a milestone May 13 as they grew another year older. Members congregated as the club turned 80 years old.

Member Julia Shiflett hosted the event which included refreshments, tours of her gardens and a short program. Floral arrangements depicting each decade of the club’s existence decorated the Shiflett’s home.

Becky Durrance designed the arrangement for the 1964-1974 period. She said she took her inspiration from the “funky colors of the period.” Her arrangement included gerbera daisies, bamboo and greenery.

Durrance said she appreciates the 40-50 year age span in members. “There aren’t very many venues for intergenerational relationships,” she said. “We have great camaraderie with all ages. We all have a common love of nature and flowers.”

But Connie Wallace said the group learns about more than gardening. “We care about growing things but also about waterways and conservation. It’s all connected like we are,” she said.

Wallace said she enjoys the surprise her gardens provide each year. And like the club, gardening, for Wallace, is rich in history.

“When peonies bloom, I think about my grandmother. Smell strikes a cord and fragrance is powerful,” she said. “That’s the fun part of this club. Sharing legacies and heirlooms.”

Many of the club members have grown up around gardens their whole lives. Twenty-year club member Mara Georges said, “My dad was a master farmer in Southern Georgia.”

Thirty-seven year member Anna Lou Reynolds has served as club president four times. About the membership, she joked, “We come to stay.” Reynolds said she enjoys the wildflowers that grow naturally on her property. “What God lets come up is what I bring to the group,” she said.

Whether plantings, know-how or history, members contribute in different ways to the group. Much of the group’s history can be heard from Sara Louise Mott, daughter of club founder Tracy Prater. Mott explained the origin of the club’s name. Dixie was a highway that ran south through the country. “[The founders] didn’t live in town. They didn’t want to live in town. They wanted everyone to know they were Southern and they voted democrat,” she said.

Reynolds explained how the earliest members shared flowers from their property. “They’d say, girls bring your flowers and we’ll share,” she said.

Mott still tends the Siberian irises given to her mother by fellow founder Carolyn Brown.

Members have also shared their love of flowers with others. Over the years, the club has taken flowers to the sick, planted flowers at public arenas like Concord Park, along Pellissippi Parkway and at the then Crippled Children’s Hospital. Members were civic minded taking cookies (and probably some flowers, too) to men stationed at UT.

The Dixie Highway Garden Club began with 14 charter members including Brown, the first president. According to the club’s history, Brown brought a variety of plants, shrubs and cuttings to each meeting to share with fellow members. She often traveled to their homes to help with the plantings. Brown not only played a part in the rich history of Dixie Highway, she is memorialized on the University of Tennessee campus at the Carolyn P. Brown Student Center.


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