When it came to understanding how to excel in all things gardening, renowned horticulturist Asa Sims clearly got the memo. In 1908 he arrived in the Tidewater area, a place he would call home for over six decades. Sims aspired to become a painter. Instead, the teenager enrolled in agriculture classes at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now known as Hampton University.)
A position at the university greenhouse would last three decades with Sims rising to the role of General Manager. An additional job he took on in academia, as an Extension educator, allowed Sims to combine his love for plants and community. Driven by an ambition to make people “flower minded and beauty conscious” he traveled through various rural and urban areas in Virginia and North Carolina teaching landscaping, beautification, and floriculture to thousands of plant lovers in the region.
Sims was also the successful owner and operator of ‘Sims Florist,’ a shop located on his 2-acre estate between Phoebus and East Hampton. Known for beautifully decorated arrangements that were featured in commercial and residential spaces, this was not your everyday floral shop! Here Sims housed a nursery where he grew his own plants and cultivated hundreds of flowers. It was a true showcase of his floricultural talents.
Perhaps his most extraordinary contribution came at the height of the Jim Crow era when Sims forever sealed his horticulture legacy as founding father and state adviser to the ‘Negro Garden Club of Virginia.’ Led by Black women, what started as seven garden clubs in 1932, had decades later become a movement! Thousands of clubs sprang up in all states of the Southeast and across the nation from sea to shining sea. Sims was their biggest champion.
An absolute legend of the Hampton Roads community, may we give him all the flowers in Black History month and beyond. Here’s to forever celebrating the legacy of the incomparable Asa Sims!
Abra Lee Bio
Abra Lee is a national speaker, writer, and owner of Conquer the Soil a platform that combines Black garden history and current events to raise awareness of horticulture. She has spent a whole lotta time in the dirt as a municipal arborist, extension agent, airport landscape manager, and more. Lee is a graduate of Auburn University and alumna of the Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows, a global network of public horticulture professionals.