Fertile Ground

Feature story for The Memphis Daily News

Aug. 29, 2013

Future looks bright as Memphis Botanic Garden turns 60

In 1947, two parcels of land on the eastern boundaries of Memphis were purchased for $400,000 to be used as a new city park.

At the suggestion of political boss E.H. Crump, an avid bird enthusiast, the park was nearly named Bluebird, yet would come to be known as Audubon Park, home to a shooting range and golf course among other amenities.

There was no area set aside for formal gardens at the time. In 1953, however, 2,500 rhizomes donated by the family of Morgan Ketchum were planted on the east end of the park, known afterward as the Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden. The idea self-pollinated, and garden clubs and societies such as the Memphis Men’s Garden Club and the Memphis Wildflower Society soon had their way with plantings. The city moved its rose collection from Overton Park to what was rapidly becoming heralded as the Gardens of Audubon Park.

Sixty years later and that rich patch of dirt has blossomed into the Memphis Botanic Garden with 28 specialty gardens spread over 96 acres in the heart of the city.

The 1960s saw growth as the Goldsmith family honored department store founder Jacob Goldsmith with a donation to create the Goldsmith Civic Garden Center as a gathering place. Three years later the Memphis City Council formally designated it the Memphis Botanic Garden, and in 1969, the foundation was formed that would manage the city-owned property.

In 1996, local philanthropists Helen and J.B. Hardin made a significant donation and Hardin Hall was built, creating space for receptions, conferences and a grand main entrance.

“That event certainly helped the Garden in terms of being able to generate income and sustain the operation,” executive director Jim Duncan said.

Having said that, Duncan noted that hard times were ahead for the attraction . . . (read more)