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These flowers never fade: Fleur de Lis Garden Club marks 50 years of seeds, service
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Fleur de Lis garden club members past and present gather Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County for a 50th anniversary celebration. From the left they are Barbara DeArmand, Barbara McConnell, Evelyn Pirhalla and Myra Taylor. - photo by Scott Rogers

Old photos of women gathered together scrolled across the TV screen in the The League Lodge on Riverside Drive.

A photo album lay on a table nearby with more recent photos of women gathered at different homes and gardens. And little packets of flower seeds were there for the 30 women who filled the room to take home after their monthly meeting.

Named after an image representing a lily, the Fleur de Lis Garden Club in Gainesville recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, bringing together the club’s past presidents, current members and current president to share coffee and brunch and reminisce on all that has happened over the last half century.

“We do so much locally,” said Connie Propes, a current member of the club. “We went up there to Don Carter State Park and planted I don’t know how many hundred daffodil bulbs. So it’s always doing something that makes the area nicer.”

And at the core, that’s what the club is all about.

Throughout the years, members have learned about gardening and used that knowledge to compete in flower design competitions. They’ve also used it to help around the community, involved in projects such as maintaining a garden at Wilshire Trails, landscaping at My Sister’s Place and decorating the Walters Tree at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

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Fleur de Lis garden club member and past president Lois Williams speaks Wednesday, March 7, 2018, during the group's 50th anniversary celebration at the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County. Members past and present attended the event, which also featured a presentation by Charles Hay, owner of The Olive Basket. - photo by Scott Rogers
“When I retired, I joined because my neighbors did,” said Dot Pirkle, a retired teacher who has been a member of the club for 25 years. “I think a lot of it is camaraderie. We enjoy being together, we enjoy meeting new people, having new people come. We all have a love for the outdoors. We have a love for flowers and plants, and we love to share that information.”

That’s another big aspect of the club. One benefit each member takes away is the friendships they have formed with like-minded women at the monthly meetings. No matter how much time passes, when they all get together, they talk about life and gardening as if they had just seen each other.

For Betsy Hopkins, joining the Fleur de Lis club was her way of doing exactly that. She had been a teacher, but after retiring, she knew she wouldn’t be able to meet people at the school. She joined the club as a way to get more involved in the area.

“I had never gardened,” said Hopkins, who moved to Gainesville in 1999. “I still don’t like getting down on my knees, but I joined because I wanted to get to know people. And it has been an ongoing ‘good friends’ place. But we’ve learned things, too, and we’ve done some neat things.”

During each meeting, the members learn from different people around the community who teach them about different aspects of gardening. Sometimes, it’s about growing herbs, or taking care of orchids. Other times, it’s a little more unique.

At the 50th anniversary, the gardening club invited Charles Hay, co-owner of The Olive Basket, a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store in Gainesville, to talk about myths and misconceptions of olive oil and pass out some samples.

Kathy Hawthorne said one of the club’s greatest accomplishments was in 1996 when the Olympics came to Gainesville. Lake Lanier was used for rowing, canoe and kayak events, and with the world watching, Fleur de Lis wanted to make sure the city looked presentable.

“Down at the Holly Tree corner, Georgia Power had all their lines up there and we thought they were very ugly,” said Hawthorne, who was president of the club at the time. “We petitioned Georgia Power and they moved their lines underground.”

Fleur de Lis is hoping to continue making a difference in the community, just as it did in 1996 and in years before and since. But the problem is it seems to attract mostly retired women. While the club is open to gardeners of all ages, meetings take place in the morning when younger women are often working or in school.

“I think people just got tired, and young people don’t like to get as involved as we did,” said Ann Alexander, who was president of the club in 1973.

Regardless of who joins or who notices, members of Fleur de Lis said they will continue to make the city look better through their gardening efforts for as long as they can.

“If we didn’t do some of the things we do, people would notice,” Propes said. “But since we do, it’s just kind of accepted that this is Gainesville, this is the garden club and this is what we do.”