Virginia Smart McIlhenny
By her granddaughter, Kate McIlhenny Gardiner Tucker
When Virginia Smart McIlhenny was asked to join the Garden Study Club in 1971, she was truly honored. At first she was nervous because she didn’t know much about gardening, but “being ‘smart’ I knew I could learn.” She blossomed in the club, loving the monthly gatherings and fostering close friendships.1977-1978 was an important year for Virginia and husband Edmund. While he reigned as Rex, she ruled as president of GSC. Some members of our club recall her gentle way of keeping us focused on our mission with her guiding words at the business meetings. And of course, every year Art In Bloom was a favorite event of hers, from helping with the set up during the day to enjoying the party that night. Virginia is now 90 years young and when I asked her recently for some gardening tips she had very specific advice: “If you want to extend the life of cut flowers, cut them at an angle so they can take in more water. But, if you are entering a flower show, be sure to cut them flat so that they stand up straight.” In this her 45th year as a member of GSC, what she treasures most is the time spent with her lifelong friends and family. As I left her home the other day, she picked a fresh flower by the door and tucked it behind my ear. Forever gracious, it is truly an honor to be part of her club.
Anne “Banana” Reily
By her granddaughter, Leila Sutherlin Gamard
When I was bestowed the honor of joining The Garden Study Club in 2003, my grandmother, Anne “Banana” Reily had already been in the club for 33 years. While this year is her first as an emeritus member, she still remains very active today – even hosting us on Avery Island in March.
There are so many stories from over the years, but a few stand out. After joining in 1970, she was elected President from 1975-1977. She has also served proudly as a Zone IX representative for public relations/publicity, represented us at various Zone meetings and in the early 90’s she was Co-Chair of Horticulture for the Annual (Zone) meeting with her dear friend Mary Stephens of the Town Gardeners. One of the most memorable stories was the daunting task they had collecting blue glass sparkling water bottles for over a year to use as vases for cut flowers during the flower show. Most club members had never tasted fizzy water before (remember this is the early 90’s) and so afterwards they felt they were quite worldly. Throughout all the years of Zone meetings is where she made her lifelong acquaintances.
One of the funniest stories is that Rose Strachan’s chauffeur would drive the two of them to The Beauregard Keyes House on a regular basis to weed the garden. My grandmother always loved the wonderful flower sales at Mrs. Bright’s house and traveling with the club to visit other cities and tour gardens; however, nothing reminds me more of her and GSC than Art in Bloom. Nana (as her family calls her) used her people and organizational skills each year manning the check in desk at AIB. This way she helped raise money for her two most favorite organizations, GSC and NOMA where she serves as a lifetime trustee. On the evening of AIB, she and my grandfather, Chuck, could always be found on the dance floor, but that was before she spent her children’s inheritance at the auction. Speaking of children, her two daughters (Anne and Cathy), one granddaughter (me) and one granddaughter-in-law (Missy) are all active and proud GSC members. We all have gardening in our blood. Even Nana’s grandfather, E.A. McIlhenny, was an honorary member of the Garden Club of America.
Her dedication and love for the GSC spans over 46 years – nearly half her life!!! Her love of flowers, the outdoors and gardening are an inspiration to me. I can hear her telling me why my lemon trees aren’t as fruitful as they should be or what type of camellias I have. Her dedication, passion and love to the GSC and GCA is something I aspire to and hope to one-day pass along to future generations. I know I look forward to may more wonderful stories about GSC – a club she holds very dear to her heart!!!!
Genevieve “Gen” Munson Trimble
By Elizabeth Smart Wooten
As we gathered around our dinner table last Thanksgiving in St.Francisville, Gen Trimble, looking glamorous as ever at the age of 93, proposed a toast. “Someone once told me that in order for a person to be truly happy, she must have something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.” With the anticipation of the release of her new book this spring, Gen certainly gives us all something to very much look forward to.
Recently over dinner and stiff old fashions, her favorite, Mrs. Trimble and I discussed her upcoming book which focuses on Gen and Bud Trimble’s restoration of their remarkable gardens, Afton Villa, in St.Francisville. It was only fitting that Gen collaborate with LSU on this project because you might say that Gen and Bud’s long road to acquire Afton could be traced to their time as students at LSU where they first met.
Genevieve Munson was in the Journalism School and the editor of the student paper, The Daily Reveille. (Gen’s Tiger blood runs deep. She even has a small LSU rug that she rubs for good luck during a big game!) A handsome young student, Bud Trimble, was also involved with the Reveille and later became the editor as well.
As Gen and Bud’s relationship progressed, he pinned her at the Deke house. “After we started courting, Bud told me that he would like to take me to meet his mother at their family home, Lindon, in Natchez. As we drove from Baton Rouge to Natchez, we passed Afton Villa in St.Francisville. Noticing the open gates, we drove in and I thought it was the most romantic place I had ever seen,” she said.
The couple later married and continued to visit the Trimble home in Natchez, always passing Afton Villa on their drive. Gen was shocked to read in the Times Picayune one morning that the beautiful 41 room Gothic home at Afton Villa, where my own mother attended Nursery School, had burned to the ground.
Fast forward to 1972. Gen and Bud were traveling to Natchez and stopped at Afton Villa. “I cannot describe exactly what it looked like. There were ruins, weeds and snakes everywhere,” she said. “Bud said it’s such a shame. Someone will buy this place and make a subdivision out of it. And I said, “Well wouldn’t it be nice if someone would buy it and save the beautiful 19th century garden because there are not many left in Louisiana.” Before they knew it, they had done just that.
Gen had always loved gardening, a skill she had learned from her mother. She was the planter. Bud was the pruner. As the new owners of Afton Villa, Gen and Bud had an enormous project on their hands. Gen quickly found landscaping extraordinaire Dr. Neil Odenwald, head of the LSU Landscaping Department, to help with the restoration. To this day, Dr. Odenwald is a close friend and meets with Gen every two months to discuss plans for the gardens.
In addition to Dr. Odenwald, the Trimbles also hired a young man, Ivy, who lived down the road to help clear debris (over 400 truck loads) for 2 weeks. Forty years later, Ivy is still there overseeing the 250 acre property. I can hear Ivy’s voice as I’ve pulled through the Afton Gates over the years to see the spectacular spring tulips and daffodils, “ You just wait, Mrs. T has really outdone herself this time.”
It was also around the time that the Trimbles bought Afton when Gen was invited to join the Garden Study Club. She kept busy fundraising for the club by traveling to Garden Club of America events giving a talk titled “Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre.” Gen gave the talk and her friend Barbara Harvey showed the slides. In addition, she was spearheading a fundraising campaign for the Botanical Gardens at City Park and credits the Garden Study Club for the project’s immense success. “The club really stood behind me and supported my efforts,” she said, work which won her GCA’s highest honor in 1997- the Garden Club of America Achievement Medal.
Never one to slow down, Gen has been hard at work for the past several years on what is sure to be a book we will all covet. Next month, there will be a book signing at the Pavillion of Two Sisters. Stay tuned for details on this not-to-be-missed event. I know with certainty that Mrs. T has really outdone herself this time.
Grace Parker Lecorgne
By her granddaughter, Anna LeCorgne Schaefer
Grace Parker LeCorgne joined the Garden Study Club in 1981, and 35 years later it is such an honor for me to pick up my grandmother and go to lunch meetings together. Sitting down with Deedee, as we all call her, it brought a smile to my face to not only hear her fond memories of GSC but realizing that things aren’t all that different. While nowadays the dress code is much less formal and we may not insist on using our fine china, silver and crystal at lunch meetings, we still put great emphasis on horticulture, fundraising and hands-on learning which is something to be proud of. And of course we hold on to traditions such as bringing toys to the Christmas party, something that has always been so special to everyone, and field trips to Avery Island.
Grace and Boy, now 84 and 88 respectively, laughed together in their living room reminiscing about one particular Zone IX dinner at Antoine’s. Grace was in charge of all transportation with one of the Town Gardeners. It was pouring rain and all of the women were running around town in their long dresses and tennis shoes while Boy and George Montgomery had to escort everyone into the dinner so they didn’t get drenched. To top it all off, they lost one of the women at dinner (who may have been a bit overserved). But it is New Orleans after all!
What some people may not know about Grace is her passion for poetry. In fact, MI Scoggin and Eugenie Huger compiled many of her poems into a book called Seasons. Most of the poems were written at their family farm in Kiln, MS and were inspired by her love for gardening and the Garden Study Club. I’ll end my little write-up with one of her favorites for this time of year.
There’s not much to say of glorious May
That hasn’t ben said before.
Her flowers divine, and climate so fine
Cause the poetic spirit to soar.
Spring celebrations – school graduation—
May poles in colors all gay.
Picnics and dance, where romantic glances
Give so many secrets away.
Even the cynic must find something in it,
This marvelous frivolous May.
And all to savor her fabulous flavor,
For Summer’s a heartbeat away!
Susan Jones Gundlach
By Susu Lane Stall (2022)
50 years of Susan Gundlach
Who’s generosity always surpasses the line of duty
With perfect red lips and all her beauty
Only she hosts visiting gardens serving oysters and Jimmy on bar duty
We owe her thanks for bringing Art in Bloom to New Orleans in 1988
Allowing us to be the most generous garden club in the state
The first to raise her hand asking questions or giving advice on the topic of demand
Susan’s commitment to our garden club is so greatly appreciated
Her loyalty and enthusiasm should be emulated
Susan has been the seed that has helped our garden club grow and thrive
She is the queen of our little bee hive
Thank you for your service to the club
And cheers to 50 years!
Marion Earling Bright
By Holly Bright Kavanagh (2022)
It is no wonder that Marion Earling Bright a.k.a. Mern the Fern is a 50-year icon of the Garden Study Club. Nature and flora have been in Manny’s life since she was a young sprout. Manny grew up on a farm in rural Connecticut and has spent the greater part of her adult life living amongst the majestic oaks of Audubon Park. It is not an exaggeration to say that Audubon Park is her front yard while her backyard features a brick wall mounted with bromeliads and exotic orchids and is surrounded by a panoply of her favorite bushes, vines, herbs and flowers. Sitting in Manny’s garden has curative powers.
Manny’s love of hort is in her genes. Her father, Duke Earling, was a master cultivator with a meticulous vegetable garden. Duke raised peppers, eggplant, lettuce, snow peas, cauliflower and other veggies laid out in perfect rows, flawless, lush and green, without weeds or a single shoot out of place. But Duke’s legacy was his perfect tomatoes, started as seeds in his green house — a solarium gifted to him by his daughter, Manny, which he named appropriately the Bright House — then transplanted into the rich soil of his garden. Duke prided himself on getting his Best Boys to market, first of the season, before all of his competition. He also prided himself on the delicious homemade tomato juice that came from those tomatoes, an essential ingredient for a perfect Bloody Mary.
Like her father, Manny is a master cultivator herself. Her family of kids, grandkids and now great-grandkids speaks to her fertility. Yet her real legacy, her signature move, is an orange plastic pill bottle filled with freshly-cut flowers from her garden. Leave it to Manny to take an everyday object, usually tossed in the trash, then repurposing and restocking it with a different kind of medicine. Leave it to Manny to reimagine a plastic bottle into something so loving and lovely, a simple gesture that says so much — kindness delivered from the heart…like Mother Nature and Manny herself. As this group especially knows, gardens have curative powers, and Manny and her pill bottles are a special kind of medicine. And for Manny, the growing season never ends.