Cultivating Friendships for Fifty Years
By Rosemarie Steele
In 1965, Paducah native Lucinda Rudd and her friends were in their mid 20s. They knew little or nothing about gardening. There were a few established garden clubs in Paducah, but none for young women. That’s when Lucinda’s mother, Charlotte Woodall, and her gardening friend Gerry Smith, decided to cultivate a plan that would enable the next generation to follow in their footsteps. Under their sponsorship, La Petite Fleur (French for “little flower”) garden club was formed. The objective was clear: to encourage interest in all phases of home gardening, promote better horticulture practices, civic beauty, and the conservation of natural resources.
The first meeting was held on July 20, 1965 at the home of Mrs. Richard Smith. “We tried to stay small enough to meet comfortably in the members’ homes,” said Carol Bright, the only local surviving charter/founding member. By 1970, La Petite Fleur grew from nine to thirty members. The Club now boasts the maximum of 45 active members.
Each year, members document the past while planting seeds that move this colorful bouquet of women into the future. Four to six members sign up to each take a meeting month and choose the program, furnish a luncheon, and host or provide a location for the meeting. “The first few years we concentrated on programs that were learning experiences for all of us,” said Carol. Speakers have presented talks on perennials, wild flowers, roses, beekeeping, cooking with herbs, wreath making, flower arranging, bonsai, tree forestry, and much more.
When first established, La Petite Fleur answered the call for donations from the City Beautification Board and other civic groups by hosting a Christmas Bazaar. Workshops were held to make paper mache angels and wise men and elaborately decorated goose eggs. “The first bazaar was a huge success, as was the second and last one. But the young women all had young children, so it was decided to raise the dues and not do any more time-consuming bazaars,” said Carol.
One of La Petite Fleur’s early civic beauty projects was planting azaleas along Jefferson Street. There was no sprinkler system on Jefferson at that time. “We
carted buckets of water in our cars to water the plants,” said Ann Denton who strived to maintain the azaleas with Beatrix Petter, Ginger Usher, and Martha Sanders. The watering and weeding proved to be a huge effort. “After that experience, we were careful not to be caretakers. We planted flowers at Merryman House and Clemens Fine Arts Center, but were assured that they would be responsible for their own maintenance.”
La Petite Fleur historians have collected a treasure trove of vintage newspaper clippings touting Club news and photos from the society page, beautifully handwritten meeting notes, donation requests, and thank you letters from civic groups.
In addition to the memorabilia, a collection of annual programs shows just how much culture and technology have affected La Petite Fleur. Early programs were produced on a typewriter and members were identified as “Mrs. John Smith” as opposed to “Jane Smith.” Today, the programs are digitally produced and include e-mail addresses with glossy cover designs by award-winning photographer Phyllis Russell.
Though educational and creative programs are thoroughly enjoyed, field trips to local/regional gardens and historic American gardens win the blue ribbon as the most fun for these horticulturists. Morning mimosas, shopping adventures and lunch at unique cafes, complimented the bus trips to St. Louis to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden and the 50th anniversary trip in 2019 to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to this group was the diverse ages of its members,” said current president Julie Turok. “The older ones have a lot more wisdom and the young ones bring new ideas.” The camaraderie, the enjoyment of all things garden, and the desire to grow and learn resonates throughout the history of La Petite Fleur. Perhaps Vicki Hunkler says it best. “La Petite Fleur members have a common interest that brings them together, of course, but the club has flourished over the years because of the friendships forged during meetings, luncheons, and field trips. The meetings provide an opportunity to share home and garden ideas, to listen to local experts on what is trending and helpful, and to enjoy those friends who attend.”