In 1926 delegates and representatives from seventeen of the state’s thirty-four garden clubs met at the Read House in Chattanooga and organized the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs (TFGC). Mrs. E. Y. Chapin of the Garden Club of Signal Mountain was TFGC’s first president.
The fledgling federation survived the difficult years of the Great Depression to promote family gardens and beautification. Mrs. Sim Perry Long of the Garden Club of Riverview in Chattanooga promoted the planting of sustenance gardens through the donation of tools, seeds, and planting information. TFGC supported the conservation efforts of the 1930s by promoting the preservation of slow-growing evergreens and wildflowers. The clubs advocated roadside beautification through the clearing of signs and debris and promoted the planting of trees in conjunction with the George Washington Tree Planting Program. During the 1930s, TFGC also established the first Junior Garden Club. To acknowledge the work of local clubs, TFGC President Mrs. John Burch of Nashville created an awards system. The Wildwood Garden Club of Memphis won an award for planting 18,245 trees, and the Fountain City Garden Club won the Award of Honor for its work in landscaping miles of roadside between Knoxville and Fountain City. In 1936 TFGC launched its first fight against billboards.
During World War II, the federation joined the governor in a program of garden therapy, which supplied small plants, seedlings, and cuttings to inmates in the state’s penal institutions and patients in state hospitals. TFGC also encouraged Junior Gardeners to become soldiers for gardening with promotions for vegetable gardens.
In the postwar years, TFGC has expanded into new areas. It established its first horticulture scholarship and provided twenty-eight scholarships to the Teachers’ Conservation Education Workshop. The clubs erected Blue Star Markers along Tennessee highways as memorials to the state’s soldiers killed in battle. The federation also expanded into world gardening programs. During the 1970s Mrs. James B. Carey promoted the erection of fences and the planting of roses to hide junkyards. Ivan Racheff presented TFGC with properties in Knoxville that included six and one-half acres of park and several buildings; Racheff Park and Gardens became the permanent home of the federation. Under the direction of TFGC President Betty Weesner, the federation promoted flower show schools, conservation workshops, and garden consultant courses.
In 1979 Anne Wilbanks of Knoxville added environmental workshops to the federation’s list of activities. In 1983 President Jerry Tubb from Memphis organized the first Wildflower Workshop, the first Arboreta Conference, and the first Environments Education workshop designed for college credit. In 1987 TFGC President Martha Phillips held the federation’s first Legislation Advocacy Seminar.
As TFGC entered the last decade of the twentieth century, the organization continued to improve old programs and add new ones. The first Riverboat Water and Energy Workshop was held in Clarksville. During Jo Monroe’s tenure as president, the first environmental studies course was approved for continuing education for teachers. The World Gardening Program of the NCSGC launched in 1947 as “Seeds of Peace” continued to help impoverished families in Uganda, East Africa, Thailand, and Ecuador. Charlotte Branstetter of Nashville received a NCSGC Garden Therapy Award for developing a Horticulture Program for youth offenders.
In 1996 TFGC included four districts and 254 clubs with 6,954 members. That year TFGC oversaw one environmental education school, forty-two flower shows, six flower show schools, and two symposia. The President’s Project was the TFGC Butterfly Garden at the University of Tennessee Challenge Center, which promotes interest in butterflies and their benefit to the natural world. In June 1996 TFGC held its Bicentennial Flower Show at the State Capitol.
The Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs promotes gardening through audiovisual presentations and programs for radio and television. In addition, the federation supports butterfly gardening, historic preservation projects, and environmental awareness. As an example of the ways in which garden clubs have advanced with the times, the Environmental Concerns Garden Club of Clarksville recently established the nation’s first garden club Web page.