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Celebrating Black History Month, Norfolk Botanical Gardens

Celebrating Black History Month, Norfolk Botanical Gardens

To celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting some of the many contributions of African-Americans to the horticultural industry. Today we share a story especially important to the Hampton Roads community, the story behind the WPA Memorial Garden located in the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

Content from Norfolk Botanical Garden

The idea for the eventual Norfolk Botanical Garden came from City Manager, Thomas P. Thompson. Because the climate of Norfolk was uniquely suited to azaleas he believed a garden could be created to rival those of Charleston, S.C., which even during the depression drew tourists to their city. On June 30, 1938, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) awarded a grant of $76,278 to begin the project. It began as Azalea Gardens. Since most of the male labor force was at work with other city projects; a group of 200 African American women and 20 African American men received the assignment.

Laboring from dawn until dusk, the workers cleared dense vegetation and carried the equivalent of 150 truckloads of dirt by hand to build a levee for the surrounding lake. For a period of four years, the 220 original workers continued the back-breaking task of clearing trees, pulling roots and removing stumps. They worked in harsh conditions, long hours during all four seasons, regardless of the blistering heat, humidity, rain, finger-numbing cold, snow or frigid temperatures. They battled snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, and poison ivy. In less than a year, a section of the trees, briers, vines and underbrush had been cleared and readied for planting, using only pickaxes, hoes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. By March 1939, the work had progressed so that 4,000 azaleas, 2,000 rhododendrons, several thousand camellias, other shrubs and 100 bushels of daffodils had been planted. The men and women turned overgrown, swampy acres into a garden that stylistically expressed the national trend of landscape architecture during the late 1930’s. Neither the work nor the pay was great, but it was a means of putting food on the table, which would not have been possible otherwise.

To watch and learn more about the WPA Memorial Garden click here.

We'd like to thank Norfolk Botanical Garden for the information, photo and video.

To help maintain the WPA Memorial Garden, please consider donating to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

June of 1870, the Flower Farmers in D.C.

Celebrate Black History Month, The Flower Farmers in D.C.

As we celebrate black history month, we'd like to highlight the achievements of black men and women in horticulture. We'd like to thank Abra Lee with @conquerthesoil for this image and story from June of 1870, which features the Flower Farmers in D.C.

Flower sellers, sometimes called peddlers or vendors, grew flowers on their rural land and brought them into cities like D.C., Richmond, and, to this day, Charleston. The ladies’ appearance marked the arrival of spring in Washington, D.C. long before the famed cherry blossoms. (Speaking of which, a special shout out to Roland Jefferson, African-American horticulturist recognized for saving said cherry blossoms. To learn more click here.

Thank you again, Abra! To learn more about Abra, and other stories of African Americans in horticulture, follow her on social media conquerthesoil.

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.

Carolina Woman, Annie Vann Reid, has Big 5-Acre Nursery, Greenhouse

Black History Month, Featuring Annie Vann Reid

Black History Month is an annual, monthlong celebration in February to honor and remember the achievements of the African American community and recognize their role in our history. It all began in 1926, when historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson chose February 7 for the first celebration of Negro History Week- an event to encourage scholars to engage in the intensive study of the Black past, a subject that had long been sorely neglected by academia and in U.S. schools.

This date was chosen to coincide with birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. Both Lincoln and Douglas helped shape African American history in the United States. Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and became an abolitionist and civil rights leader and President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in America's.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month. Along with the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK have annual celebrations that commemorate Black history. “In celebrating Black History Month,” Ford said, “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Today Black History Months is a federally recognized, nationwide celebration that calls on all Americans to reflect on the significant roles that African-Americans have played in shaping US history.

During the month of February, McDonald Garden Center will be highlighting the achievements of black men and women in horticulture. This week will focus on the accomplishments of Annie Van Reid. We'd like to thank Abra Lee with @conquthesoil for this image and story of Annie Van Reid.

Her journey into floriculture started like so many--humbly. In a small garden she turned her hobby of cultivating flowers such as roses, dahlias, and native species into a thriving business. Reid owned multiple floral shops, a five-acre nursery and commercial greenhouse. At the height of the segregation era in the United States, Reid’s clientele in her home state of South Carolina included: the Mayor, Governor, and folks from cities as far north as Boston. This speaks volumes to her floral artistry which crossed racial color lines- something nearly impossible to achieve at that time. Known as an astute businesswoman, her florist shop combined with her many real estate holdings would be worth over $1 million dollars in today’s money. Mrs. Reid, an inspiration to us all, embodies the spirit of aspiring for greatness when she said, “I began cautiously on a small scale... I found the soil fertile and willing to yield.”

Thank you again, Abra! To learn more about Abra, and other stories of African Americans in horticulture, follow her on social media @conquthesoil or visit her website click here.

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.

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