Oakland Cemetery’s Early Landscapes: Researching and Re-Landscaping the African American Grounds

As part of Historic Oakland Foundation’s Master Plan, an administrative history timeline was researched, which has provided a written backdrop of clues and inferred explanations to Oakland’s landscape tapestry. A series of short articles will trace changes to some of Oakland’s most important elements that shape our experience of the cemetery today.

by Sara Van Beck

One of the past year’s landscape restoration projects at Oakland has been the southern portion of the African American Grounds. As with all restoration projects, garden history research on the area and its families was conducted to guide the design. Historical observations of Oakland’s trees, shrubs, and flowers were relatively infrequent and then short on the sort of specific detail one would like for landscape restoration. A handful of period photographs provide the basis for the majority of the areas of the cemetery where whites are buried. Unfortunately, photographs of the African American Grounds are not to be had. There are more photographs and newspaper articles addressing Potter’s Field and its indigent burials than records addressing the section where wealthier African Americans paid to be buried. Thus, other historical sources must be used to provide inferences for how families landscaped African American Grounds.

Other historic African American cemeteries provide some general landscape data. Turning to Atlanta’s South-View Cemetery for comparison, exceedingly little appears in the local newspapers. Since its 1886 founding until the early 1900s, South-View appears in only one article in The Constitution. Published in 1895, the newspaper article details a cemetery of strong contrasts. Some areas near South-View’s front gates were well-tended by loving hands; loved ones were commemorated by marble markers, but no mention was made of planted shrubs or flowers. However, according to the article, large areas of the cemetery were quite mournful, suggestive of neglect if not abandonment, ornamented only by weeds and decaying floral arrangements.

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’ photograph of an unidentified Georgia cemetery.

What the “well cared-for” lots marked by handsome marble may have looked like comes by way of an unidentified Georgia cemetery at the close of the 19th century. W.E.B. Du Bois took the photo for his “American Negro” exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Through more than 360 photographs, the exhibit showcased the everyday lives of black Georgians at the turn of the century; Oakland resident Thomas Askew was among the photographers whose work was included in “American Negro.”

Dr. DuBois’ photograph reveals a tidy, small cemetery enclosed by a whitewashed wood fence, with understory trees scattered throughout. A few lots are either bordered by low hedges or ornamented by small shrubs, in keeping with the general landscape aesthetic found at smaller cemeteries of the period.

The first guidepost of information for Oakland’s African American families appears in the new Cemetery Commission’s report to the City Council in 1907. Coming at a time when the newly appointed Commission chair was strongly determined to overhaul the cemetery, he was quite pleased to report that the African American “portion of the cemetery was in a most unsightly condition, but it has been greatly improved and now presents a decent appearance to the great gratification of the families, who are taking an interest in the cemetery for the first time, and are expressing a desire to beautify their ground.”

While seemingly late, this coincides with the rise of a financially well-off black middle class in Atlanta. It may simply have taken this long for families to have the wherewithal to spend money on cemetery plants, or for ornamental gardening to become a pastime in the community. The chairman’s statement and this timeframe of the early 1900s then become the starting point for landscape research on how the African American families at Oakland may have landscaped their lots, their aesthetic tastes and plant preferences.

Regarding landscape preferences in Atlanta’s black community in the early 1900s, tidbits peek from the pages of The Constitution, but the real touchstone comes from a study by Atlanta University students led by W.E.B. Du Bois.

A c. 1899 photograph of Bishop Holsey’s house. Courtesy Library of Congress.

As most of Atlanta’s black community was not well-off, vegetable and ornamental gardening was a luxurious pursuit for the few, or at least not on the minds of many. In 1900 it was estimated that 60 percent of Atlanta’s black community resided in structures without a yard. Yet in 1903, an article in The Constitution penned by Oakland resident and physician Henry Rutherford Butler encouraged the community to do just that, garden: “Let us then dig up our gardens and plant them. Plant flowers in our front yards…. I saw Bishop H. M. Turner working in his garden last Wednesday. Bishop L. H. Holsey, on Auburn avenue [sic], has the finest garden in Atlanta, without any exception. He spends much of his time at home in his garden. The example set by these men should inspire many other men who are younger and who have much more time than they.”

In the Library of Congress’ collection is a circa 1899 photograph of Bishop Holsey’s house. Dominating the small front yard are two ornamental circular flower beds with tall plants in the centers. Three years earlier, Dr. Butler had encouraged South-View lot owners to keep their relatives’ graves “clean and green.” It is tempting to speculate that Dr. Butler may have indulged in ornamental gardening along with Bishop Holsey.

A 1908 photo of a vine-encased family home, taken from Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’ photo survey.

Another set of clues come from two “human interest” pieces on Carrie Steele, locally renowned for her work with Atlanta’s black orphans. An 1888 article describes her domicile:

“There’s a pretty little cottage on the corner of Wheat and Calhoun streets. There are vines around the porch, and even in this December weather a few violets and some late chrysanthemums still linger in the neat little garden.”

Vines were a favorite way for southerners to provide cooling shade, as shade trees were rarely planted close to the house. A number of photographs documenting Atlanta’s slum row houses – with not a tree to be seen – show one or two domiciles with vine-engulfed porches. Too, chrysanthemums were becoming wildly popular in Atlanta by this time. A number of the town’s wealthiest were erecting greenhouses to grow their favorite flower in abundance, with the first chrysanthemum flower show held at the Capitol rotunda in 1889.

In 1890, with donations from many in town, Mrs. Steele leased a parcel of land from the city and erected an orphanage. A second article in 1897 focused more on the orphans themselves and their lives under Mrs. Steele’s wing. The piece mentions the children working in the vegetable garden, “while the majority climb the cherry trees after the luscious fruit or hid in the grape vines…”

Details on how those in the community gardened can be gleaned from a sociological study of Atlanta’s African Americans, conducted by the students of Atlanta University in 1907-1908. Published in 1908, The Negro American Family included a strong component on the city’s housing conditions for blacks, from Atlanta’s very poorest to its wealthiest members. As part of the study, the students engaged in a representative sampling survey of 32 residences and in-depth surveying of eight residences, even noting the condition of the front yards. Of the eight houses, one had flowers, a second had flower beds divided by cleanly swept walks, and a third had a rose bush and a peach tree. The survey is accompanied by 32 photographs by W.E.B. DuBois, depicting houses around town and illustrating everything from row house slums to simple cottages to the grandest house in town. While a number of Dr. DuBois’ photographs illustrate a few houses with front yard gardens, there’s no information recorded as to what these gardeners grew.

To infer what gardeners may have grown, an interesting book provides some hints. The Negro School and its Relation to the Community, published in 1915 by the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, is an amazingly comprehensive reference and guide to building and operating a school where no such community resource exists. Among other topics addressed are how to plant ornamental flower beds, landscape designs for the teacher’s residence, use of spring bulbs to line the school walks, and vines for fences and front porches. Hedges were to divide work and play areas on the school grounds and ornament the teacher’s cottage, although the recommended Chinese privet and Macartney rose are some of the most invasive plants in the south today.

1915 photo of the teacher’s cottage.

The ornamental gardening recommendations were simple. The flower bed was to be circular, set in the front lawn, and composed of two varieties. A tall plant was to dominate the bed for summer flowering, such as cannas or oleanders. A lower flower such as lantana was to edge the bed for contrasting color, as it was noted: “Border planting for flowers is becoming quite popular.” Flower beds could similarly be made of just spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and lilies, while “Vincas are among the best bloomers, and can be used for the entire bed or borders.” Winter flower beds could be planted of pansies, petunias, and creeping phlox. For border beds along fences or open lawn, shasta daisies and bananas were an option. Shrubs were to be planted around the edges of the open lawn or as anchor specimen plants to the teacher’s cottage. Suitable varieties included crepe myrtle, wild crab apple, sweet shrub, azalea, hydrangea, calico bush (a type of mountain laurel), roses, and Grancy Gray Beard. Native trees could be dug from nearby forests such as dogwood and wild plum. Granted, the recommended plants lists are tailored for a warmer climate than Atlanta’s, they nevertheless provide further insight as to how the southern African American community may have been guided in ornamental gardening and what a suitable plant palate would be.

One of the last pieces of evidence to be researched was the 1949 aerial photograph series of the City of Atlanta. Digitized by Georgia State University, this high-resolution image captured a number of trees and shrubs in Oakland’s African American Grounds, and hints at other landscape elements. The lack of large tree cover in the southern portion was particularly fortuitous for not obscuring smaller ornamental plantings. Combined with a bulb survey of Oakland conducted in 2003, which found numerous lots with surviving daffodils delineating lot lines and gracing headstones, an informed rough picture of the family-planted landscape as it appeared in 1949 was reached.

Yet time stands still for no gardener. Additional burials have been added since 1949; some trees grew mightily, casting shade; a few died; and many of the bulbs surviving in 2003 continued to dwindle. Armed with newspaper articles, period photographs, reference books, and surviving family plants, an inspired re-envisioning of the southern area of the African American Ground’s landscape has been embarked upon. While the landscape restoration plan draws upon the available direct evidence and inferred guideposts, long-term maintenance needs and current landscape conditions have tempered the plant variety selections.

Carrie Steele Logan’s grave marker today.

Where possible, original hedge lines shown in the 1949 aerial have been re-created. The design motifs suggested in the Tuskegee Institute’s guide have been incorporated along with some of the suggested plants. Other plants used follow from the surviving plants on the African American Grounds (such as daffodils and glossy abelia shrubs), from other areas of the cemetery (such as boxwood and curly ligustrum for hedges), and  from plants described in newspaper articles.

Thus, Carrie Steele’s old-fashioned yard chrysanthemums are scattered about, either as cradle plantings or as borders. Large circles of daffodils are intermixed with daylilies for spring and summer interest, while annuals such as pansies provide spots of winter color. A nearby weeping cherry keeps Ms. Steele company, daffodils fringe walkways and lots, and hydrangeas flank headstones. Vinca minor, often called “cemetery myrtle,” has been introduced in shaded spots to help control erosion as well as enliven what was once open dirt. Thanks to the numerous volunteers and donors who have contributed their financial resources and hard sweat equity, a new, inspired garden spot is being created for Oakland and its African American families. With continued support to expand restoration efforts, the African American Grounds will bloom for years to come.

Sara Van Beck is a member of Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. She is a leading daffodil authority and author of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940.

As HOF begins hardscape and landscape restoration in the African American Grounds, community engagement and support is critical. You can make a financial contribution to the restoration project in person at Oakland Cemetery’s Visitors Center & Museum Shop, located at the Bell Tower. Or donate online by clicking here. On the online donation page, be sure to select “African American Section” from the designation drop-down menu.

Learn more about the African American Grounds and much more at Oakland’s guided overview tour, “Sights, Symbols, and Stories of Oakland,” offered every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Throughout February HOF offers free guided tours of the African American Grounds, click here for details.

Volunteer Voices: Getting to Know Oakland Volunteer Mary Price

Oakland Cemetery relies on the incredible energy, dedication, and generosity of over two hundred volunteers. Working in the gardens, giving tours, staffing the Visitor Center, or giving countless hours at special and private events, Oakland volunteers never fail to amaze with their passion and commitment. Weve asked some of Oaklands volunteers to share their stories of how they became involved as Oakland volunteers and their experiences here.

Meet Mary Price

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am currently a self-contained Special Education teacher at Druid Hills High School. I’ve worked in a number of different jobs as an adult because I’ve never wanted to be tied down in a job to the point of hating the job. I am originally from Quitman in South Georgia. It’s a place of fond memories but not a place to spend a whole life, though I still visit my family there.

How did you get involved in volunteering at Oakland and why do you volunteer here?
I like cemeteries because they are historical goldmines. So much of the social history of a place can be gleaned from a walk through a cemetery like Oakland. So I took a walk here one summer day and decided I’d like to explore the volunteer opportunities. I wasn’t really sure what volunteering in a cemetery would involve, but it sounded promising. I had worked in downtown Atlanta and attended Georgia State University, so I had ridden past Oakland on MARTA for several years. I was intrigued.

What do you do at Oakland and what do you like the most about volunteering at Oakland?
I volunteer in the gardens, in the Visitor Center, and for special events. I enjoy volunteering at Oakland because there is such a variety of interesting people who also volunteer there. I have learned so much about the history of Atlanta and enjoyed the company of other wonderful volunteers during the years I have been a volunteer at Oakland. I have enjoyed being a team leader with the Second Saturday gardening volunteer days, and being a guide for the Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween tours. Those are only two of the many volunteer opportunities at Oakland.

What is your favorite Oakland experience or moment?
My favorite moment is when visitors to Oakland admire the beauty of the gardens or remark on how much they enjoyed participating in one of the events, because I know how much everyone works to make the events and the cemetery special. So, knowing that my efforts are appreciated by those who visit is rewarding.

If you are interested in volunteering at Historic Oakland Cemetery, want to be considered for our January 2018 new volunteer orientation, or want to know more about what our volunteers do, please click here to learn more about HOF’s volunteer needs and submit an application.   

Deck Your Halls with Fresh-Cut Fir!

by Sara Henderson, Director of Gardens

The 2017 Holiday Wreath Sale has ended. Please check back in 2018 for updates on upcoming garden sales and events! 

Oakland’s annual wreath and greenery sale returns for 2017 with fresh wreaths, a variety of hand-tied bows, and fresh greenery cut from the grounds. This is a wonderful way to honor family and decorate your home, while supporting Oakland’s gardens.

The bundles of mixed greenery are perfect for enhancing your wreath, decorating your home and mailbox, or giving as gifts. Each bundle will include an assortment of hand-selected evergreens chosen to bring fragrance and colorful cheer to your home.

The wreaths you buy for placement on the grounds will be placed by Dec. 10 if ordered before Dec. 6. Orders received after Dec. 6 will be placed as quickly as possible, usually within two days. These wreaths symbolize the love and respect you feel for departed family members and friends and also bring cheer to those visiting the grounds during the holiday season.

Place commemorative wreaths and ribbons on your family plot.

All proceeds from wreath, ribbon, and garland sales benefit Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team. Thank you for your support!

Holiday Wreaths on Sale Now

It’s the most wonderful time of year! Historic Oakland Foundation’s annual wreath sale returns, with the chance to decorate your home or family plot with fragrant balsam fir wreaths. Our handmade wreaths are sourced from a North Carolina farm, and come complete with a lovely red velvet ribbon. For reference, two 12-inch wreaths fit a mausoleum’s double doors.

All proceeds from holiday wreath sales benefit Historic Oakland Foundation’s gardens team.

Orders placed by Nov. 30 will be ready for pickup during the Dec. 2 event, A Victorian Holiday at Oakland, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. During the event, members of Oakland’s gardens team will give demonstrations of ways to embellish wreaths and other decorations with garden greenery.

Those who pick up preordered wreaths during A Victorian Holiday at Oakland will receive a complimentary bundle of decorative mixed greens harvested from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens.

12” balsam wreath with standard red bow $30*
24” balsam wreath with standard red bow $35*
36” balsam wreath $60*
Deluxe hand-tied bow $8*
Oversized red bow suitable for 36” wreath $12
6’ fresh garland $18
Bundle of mixed greens to decorate mantle, wreath, or garland $9*

*All prices include 8.9% sales tax

Oakland Tours in Focus: Ivan Allen: Making a Modern Metropolis

by Andrew Fowler, Education Program Intern

On Sunday, November 5, Historic Oakland Foundation hosts a program celebrating several Atlanta mayors and Oakland residents who had a hand in transforming the city from a rural railroad town into one of the nation’s leading cities. Join us for “From Moses to Maynard: Oakland’s Legacy of Atlanta Mayors”

With the Atlanta Falcons’ season kicking off, the Braves’ season winding down, and the Hawks’ season right around the corner, it is important to remember that our home teams have not always been a part of the city. A look back at the history of sports in Atlanta inevitably leads to Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. (1911-2003), a two-term mayor and Oakland Cemetery resident. Mayor Allen played a pivotal role in bringing these sport teams to Atlanta, but his impact reached beyond the playing field. Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. guided the city through the turbulent 1960s, and his political leadership helped to transform Atlanta into a progressive metropolis and international city.

Allen grew up in a prestigious Atlanta family and entered into the business world after graduating cum laude from Georgia Tech in 1933. As one of Atlanta’s business leaders and a president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Allen recognized the negative impact that segregation had on Georgia’s economy. He ran on a segregationist platform during gubernatorial bids in 1954 and 1958, but soon changed his political philosophy on segregation. Allen defeated Lester Maddox, a restaurant owner and segregationist, in the 1961 mayoral election. Much of his support came from Atlanta’s African American community.

On his first day in office in 1962, Mayor Allen ordered the removal of all “White” and “Colored” signs on City Hall property, which would mark a theme of integration and social equality that would define his term as mayor. Allen would go on to desegregate many city departments, including the Atlanta Fire Department, and further worked to have many Atlanta hotels, restaurants, and public places integrated before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The landmark legislation of 1964 moreover pushed the city towards full integration, with Allen playing a pivotal role in its passage. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy asked Allen to testify before Congress in favor of what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Allen was the only Southern politician to do so and received death threats in the process. Allen recognized the benefits of a unified city, and his efforts led to a wave of economic growth throughout the city.

Front page of the Atlanta Constitution after the Orly Airport crash. Mayor Allen, shown in the top right, leaves for his grim task in France in 1962.

Mayor Allen served as a leader for the city, but he also had to serve as a healer during moments of extreme tragedy. Just a few months after taking office, momentous misfortune struck the heart of Atlanta’s cultural and artistic community. On June 3, 1962 over 100 Atlanta citizens were killed when Air France flight 007 crashed departing the Orly Airport in Paris. The Atlanta victims were art patrons and cultural leaders who had been touring Europe’s galleries and museums. The Orly crash was considered the deadliest aviation disaster at the time. Allen undertook the solemn task of flying to France to identify and bring the remains home. Allen later reflected on the experience, remarking:

“I was nothing but the Mayor of Atlanta and a friend and neighbor of 106 people who had been killed at this same airport only the day before…These were my lifelong friends. This was my generation. This was also the backbone of Atlanta’s cultural society, the city’s leading patrons of the arts. There was no precedent for this kind of agony.”

The devastating tragedy was a catalyst for Atlanta’s arts community and led to the founding the Woodruff Arts Center. Tragedy once again loomed over Atlanta after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Allen participated in marches in the days following, as well as speaking with and comforting Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.

Mayor Allen walking with Coretta Scott King as they lead a march through Atlanta after her husband’s assassination in 1968.

In addition to his Civil Rights advocacy, one of Ivan Allen’s most notable and lasting legacies of is imbedded in Atlanta’s three major professional sports teams. In what seemed to be a politically and financially risky move, Allen campaigned during his 1961 mayoral run on building a large stadium to attract a Major League Baseball team to Atlanta. In early 1963 as plans were underway to build a stadium in what was the Washington-Rawson neighborhood south of downtown, Mayor Allen announced that negotiations were underway to bring the Kansas City Athletics to Atlanta. The deal seemed to be going perfectly until July 1963, when the American League denied the team’s relocation. Mayor Allen was now stranded with a partially-built $18 million stadium and an empty promise of a baseball team. But in October 1964 the Milwaukee Braves announced that they would relocate to Atlanta for the 1966 season. Atlanta finally had a Major League Baseball team.

Ivan Allen at the plate taking a pitch from Georgia Governor Carl Sanders at the opening night of Atlanta Stadium in 1965.

With the new baseball stadium completed in April 1965, interest in obtaining a professional football team for Atlanta grew. Prospective owners from both the American Football League and the rival National Football League vied for rights for the new stadium. As a potential AFL owner started negotiations with Allen, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle flew down to Atlanta to obtain rights to the stadium. Commissioner Rozelle, Mayor Allen, and Rankin Smith (who became the owner of the Falcons) were able to negotiate a deal that same day. The new Atlanta Stadium, later renamed Atlanta-Futon County Stadium, served as the home of the Braves and Falcons. The stadium also hosted the city’s professional soccer team, the Atlanta Chiefs, and the Beatles played a concert there in August 1965. While not directly responsible for their move, it was under Allen’s mayoral term that the St. Louis Hawks viewed Atlanta as a viable professional sports city and relocated the basketball franchise there in 1968.

Under Ivan Allen’s two terms, Atlanta saw immense commercial and population growth. While other Deep South cities floundered, Allen’s desegregation efforts and Civil Rights advocacy cemented Atlanta’s position as the capital of the New South. With the founding of cultural institutions like the Woodruff Arts Center and the addition of the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, and Hawks, Atlanta was transformed into a modern metropolis.

Mayor Allen died on July 2, 2003 at 92 years old. He was laid to rest at Oakland Cemetery in a family plot next to his wife Louise, who passed in 2008 and his son Beaumont. Beaumont “Beau” Allen was a longtime champion of HOF; he served as HOF board chairman from 2004 to 2005 and was also on the organization’s board of directors and board of advisors for more than 10 years. He is the namesake of Oakland’s Beaumont Allen Greenhouse.

The Allen family lot at Oakland Cemetery.

PRO Team Field Notes: Oakland’s Eastern Greenhouse Wall

by Charlie Paine
Preservation, Restoration, and Operations (PRO) Team Intern

Oakland Cemetery’s Beaumont Allen Greenhouse is located between the historic boiler room and carriage house structure near the cemetery’s northern boundary. These buildings were constructed around the turn of the 20th century and aided facility and lot management at Oakland as the cemetery continued to grow. The original greenhouse has since been removed, but the structure’s supporting walls remain. These walls may not support a greenhouse anymore, but they do support the cemetery’s historic integrity and serve as a symbol of our earliest efforts to make Oakland beautiful.

When a historic brick is covered in Portland cement, the moisture that was supposed to be absorbed and evaporated out, is retained in the wall.

The greenhouse walls were repaired several times in its history, but some repairs caused more issues to arise in the long term. In particular, the easternmost wall seems to have been partially rebuilt near the back top corner without proper bricking into the older wall for support. With parts of the wall not re-tied into the existing structure, the wall had little-to-no lateral support near the top. In addition to the poor re-structuring, the wall was capped, repointed, and in some places stucco’ed-over using Portland cement. Portland cement used as mortar and stucco can be dangerous for historic structures. Mortar is sacrificial and does its duty well only when it’s softer than the masonry it is binding. When a historic brick is covered in Portland cement, the moisture that was supposed to be absorbed and evaporated out, is retained in the wall. This is more degrading to historic bricks, which are more porous and less compressed than modern factory-made bricks.

Since the past repairs, the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse wall was retaining excessive amounts of water and allowed for many weak spots in the structure to develop and worsen to critical condition in recent months. The top of the wall had cracked, separated, and created a hazard for those walking near it.

Excessive amounts of water allowed for many weak spots in the wall.

This May a structural engineer with architectural firm Wiley|Wilson discussed with the PRO Team the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse’s east wall. The engineer addressed possible solutions to save the wall from collapsing. A feasible solution included: removing the cement cap atop the structure, repointing with an appropriate mortar, and inserting steel stitch rods into the wall to re-tie it.

Following the advice of the structural engineer, appropriate repairs have been made to the wall over the past two months, and the work is nearing completion.

Steel stitch rods were embedded every forth course of bricks to add stability to the structure.

Left: Reinforcing steel stitch beams are placed between every fourth row of brick. Right: the beams are supported with mortar.

The remains of the crumbling cement cap were chiseled off and are being recreated with a buff-colored lime mortar cap using the same mortar mixture the wall has been appropriately repointed with. With the wall’s repairs coming to an end, a final brace will be added in coming weeks to adjoin the wall to the carriage structure to ensure the wall’s longevity.

The wall after repairs.

Charlie Paine is a senior at College of Charleston, pursuing his bachelors in historic preservation and community planning and art and architectural history.


Heirloom specimens abound at Historic Oakland Cemetery’s Spring Plant Sale


Historic Oakland Cemetery’s Beaumont Allen Greenhouse will be brimming with seasonal blooms during Historic Oakland Foundation’s fifth annual Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 8.

The Spring Plant Sale is free and open to the public, who is invited to peruse a wide selection from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. At 10:30 a.m. HOF gardener Andrew Johnson will lead a demonstration on container gardening. Johnson has created many of the eye-catching garden containers found on Oakland’s grounds, and he will provide tips and tricks for creating container gardens, whether for herbs on the windowsill or striking pieces for the porch or balcony.

New this year is a special preview event only open to Historic Oakland Foundation Members, who get first pick of the Spring Plant Sale inventory on Friday, April 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. HOF Memberships will be available for purchase at the preview event.

Shoppers can expect to find a wide variety of plants suitable for all gardening skill levels. The extensive inventory includes many unusual or hard to find ornamental shrubs and perennials, pollinator-friendly choices, tender plants for the home or patio, heirloom tomatoes and other veggies, as well as tasty herbs. For the first time, camellias will be available for purchase, including some of the earliest varieties grown in North America.

“Oakland Cemetery’s Victorian inspired gardens are filled with unique and beautiful plants and our Spring Plant Sale is an ideal way to get your outdoor or indoor garden ready for the season while supporting a great cause,” said Sara Henderson, director of gardens at HOF.

Cash, check, and credit card accepted, and all proceeds from the sale benefit Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. Every dollar raised during the sale will go toward purchasing tools, equipment, more bulbs, and trees. Attendees should take note to bring their own boxes or bags to transport purchases safely home. For event details and to view a sale inventory list, click here.

Edgewood’s Historic Daffodils

by Hilary Hart
Georgia Daffodil Society Member

Daffodils bloom in a bedstead marker at Oakland Cemetery.

Daffodils bloom in a bedstead marker at Oakland Cemetery.

Spring is daffodil time, especially at Historic Oakland Cemetery; take a stroll and you will find an astonishing hosts of daffodils. There are the familiar yellow trumpets, but also delicate small-cupped daffodils, clutches of jonquils or tazetta florets, and explosions of frilly double daffodils.  While planting daffodils at gravesites was and remains a tradition, few original plantings survived subsequent years of mowing at Oakland Cemetery. The daffodils you do see, including many historic varieties, have been added under the guidance of plant historian Sara Van Beck.  Many have also have been salvaged from elsewhere.

Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood is another place to see historic daffodils (varieties introduced to the horticultural trade before 1940). Situated south of DeKalb Avenue, east of Moreland Avenue and bordered to the south by Interstate 20, Edgewood is home to many daffodils that long ago disappeared from plant catalogs and garden centers.  So many historic daffodils persist in Edgewood because it is historically a working-class and largely African American neighborhood.  While people of means bought the latest bulb varieties from catalogs and nurseries, gardeners with tighter budgets resourcefully filled their yards with pass-along plants, those varieties that have survived in gardens for decades by being handed from one person to another. Daffodils make great pass-alongs since their bulbs multiply over time and can be easily divided and shared.  Varieties that were replaced by “new and improved” cultivars in the horticultural trade thus live on in the yards of Edgewood.

Historic Oakland Cemetery volunteers rescuing daffodils from Sugar Creek in Edgewood. Foreground: Chad Holloway, whose grandmother and great-aunt are long-time in Edgewood residents.

Historic Oakland Cemetery volunteers rescuing daffodils from Sugar Creek in Edgewood. Foreground: Chad Holloway, whose grandmother and great-aunt are longtime Edgewood residents.

Among the historic daffodils found in Edgewood are a number of “Butter and Eggs”-type, including the heavily ruffled ‘Telemonius Plenus,’ introduced before 1620 and called “the green mop” by Texans because of its tendency to get hung up upon opening.  Another common sight in Edgewood is the large-cupped daffodil ‘Helios.’ It was a hybridizer’s attempt at an orange cup but was dropped from the market by about 1950.  Also abundant is the dainty ‘Stella Superba,’ introduced in 1899 as an improvement on ‘Stella,’ but which disappeared from the market before 1920.

At least one unidentified daffodil has been found in the neighborhood.  The Floyd family has been in Edgewood since the 1950s, and their matriarch, 97-year-old Miss Grace Floyd, was an avid gardener in her day.  Her front yard, a model of tidiness thanks to the efforts of son Perry, features dainty white daffodils that have defied identification.  Miss Floyd does not recall their name, and daffodil specialist Sara Van Beck is stumped but “smitten” by the redoubtable daffs.  It may be that the cultivar name is lost.  Hybridizers and bulb companies (especially in the 1800s) developed and sold flowers with very subtle differences, and then dropped them when cultivars with similar traits appeared.  Miss Floyd’s daffodil was likely listed in the catalogs of the day, but descriptions were often meager and illustrations rare, making a positive identification difficult.

Edgewood is currently undergoing gentrification. Houses built in the 1930s and 1940s are being torn down to make way for grander, pricier homes.  Lost in this process are the remnants of gardens kept by older residents, including the historic daffodils that continue to bloom each winter and spring.  Keeping ahead of the bulldozers is a group of volunteers from Oakland Cemetery.  They “rescue” daffodils from the yards of homes slated for demolition and move the bulbs to suitable locations in the cemetery.  To honor their origins in a historically black neighborhood, the daffodil bulbs will ultimately be planted in the African American Grounds section of the cemetery when its hardscape restoration is complete.


Author and daffodil expert Sara Van Beck working to identify unknown daffodil moved from Edgewood. (Courtesy Hilary Hart)

Hilary Hart taught literature at the University of Oregon before moving to Atlanta in 2009. Since then she has honed her horticultural skills and plant knowledge as a volunteer at Atlanta Botanical Garden and in various nurseries and garden centers in and around Atlanta. As an ABG volunteer, she worked in the tropical house, tended greenhouse plants, hunted populations of Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) across three states, and tied epiphytic orchids to trees in the swamps of Florida. 

To hear more from Hilary Hart and learn more about daffodil care and cultivation, join us on March 11 for the third annual Daffodil Day at Oakland Cemetery. Click here for more details.



Oakland Resident Spotlight: Remembering Louise R. Allen

On January 12, 2017 Oakland Cemetery resident Louise Richardson Allen would have been 100 years old. In commemoration of her centennial birthday, we remember this instrumental Atlantan’s legacy here in a remembrance that was originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 8, 2008, one day after she died. 

Louise Richardson Allen, known to many as Atlanta’s First Lady in the 1960s, died at her Northside Drive home on Saturday, June 7, 2008.  She was 91 years old.

The youngest of four children of Hugh and Josephine Inman Richardson, Mrs. Allen was born January 12, 1917 in the West Peachtree Street home of her grandmother, Mrs. Hugh T. Inman.  In 1923, the Richardsons moved to the family’s new home, “Broadlands,” off West Paces Ferry Road.  On that family property, Louise and her husband, Ivan Allen, Jr., built their own home in 1951, where she lived and gardened for 57 years.

She graduated from Rosemary Hall, then in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.  With her lifelong friend, the late Anne Alston Glenn, Louise was presented to Queen Mary and Edward, Prince of Wales, at the Court of St. James in June, 1935.

On January 1, 1936, she was married to Ivan Allen, Jr. at the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, where she was a lifelong member.  In their sixty-seven years of marriage, they had three children: Ivan Allen, III, who died in 1992, Hugh Inman Allen, and Beaumont Allen [Ed. note: Beaumont Allen passed on August 9, 2014. Oakland Cemetery’s Beaumont Allen Greenhouse is named in his honor.]

During the World War II years, Louise served as president of the Junior League of Atlanta.  She began the Fashionata, which became an annual charitable event sponsored by Rich’s Department Stores, to raise money for Junior League community service programs.  As a trustee of the Henrietta Egleston Hospital, now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, she and others started the Bal de Salut in 1959 to benefit the hospital.

She was a founder of the Atlanta Speech School and a founding trustee of The Westminster Schools.  She was a founding member and trustee of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Forward Arts Foundation, the Cherokee Garden Library, and the Historic Oakland Foundation.  She was the state Historian of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Georgia.

Atlanta History Center's Swan House

Atlanta History Center’s Swan House

In 1967, she joined the board of trustees of the Atlanta Historical Society, and later served as chairman and chairman emeritus.  When the Swan House, the home of her late uncle and aunt, Edward and Emily Inman, came on the market, she convinced the Historical Society board to purchase it and relocate its headquarters to Andrews Drive and West Paces Ferry Road.  To restore and beautify the grounds, she enlisted 32 garden clubs, including her own Mimosa, to support the effort with volunteer work and financial resources.

Later she was instrumental in acquiring and moving the Tullie Smith House, an 1840s farmhouse, to the History Center grounds, and led the effort to raise the money to build the Atlanta History Museum, which opened in 1993.  After she declined the AHS board’s resolution naming the museum for her, it dedicated the building to her and named the museum’s atrium in her honor.

While her husband Ivan was campaigning for mayor of Atlanta, she was often at his side at rallies across the city.  She accompanied him the night that Martin Luther King was assassinated, and helped comfort Mrs. Coretta Scott King after Mayor Allen told her that Dr. King had died in a Memphis hospital.

Louise Allen pictured in 1962 with her husband Mayor Ivan Allen and sons Inman and Beaumont. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click for more photos.)

Louise Allen pictured in 1962 with her husband Mayor Ivan Allen and sons Inman and Beaumont. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click image for more photos.)

Louise Allen loved to visit gardens in England and Scotland and often brought back ideas that she later implemented in her own garden and on the 33-acre grounds of the Atlanta History Center.  She was a pioneer in introducing new plant specimens to Atlanta, and was an early advocate of the increased use of native plants in the southern landscape.

In 1969 the city of Atlanta honored Louise Allen for civic service, naming her “Woman of the Year.”  In 1987 she received the Governors’ Award in the 11 Alive Community Service Award Program.  In 1991 she was honored as Georgia Fund Raising Volunteer of the Year by the Association of Fund Raising Professionals, and in 2003 she was named one of Atlanta’s Defining Women in an Atlanta History Center exhibit and program.

Mayor Allen, Louise Allen, and their son Beaumont Allen lie in rest at Historic Oakland.

Mayor Allen, Louise Allen, and their son Beaumont Allen lie in rest at Historic Oakland.

Local artists create an outdoor gallery from Oakland Cemetery’s gates to greenhouse

Illumine main by Cooper SanchezOn April 16, art, history, and horticulture intersect beautifully for one evening only at Oakland Cemetery. Historic Oakland Foundation’s second annual Arts at Oakland event, Illumine: An Evening of Light and Art in the Gardens, showcases four local artists at Atlanta’s treasured historic landmark.

Gardener and artist Cooper Sanchez heads Illumine with a self-guided walking tour beginning at Oakland Cemetery’s main gate. The tour continues to the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse and features Sanchez’s light-based pieces made from harvested natural installations; backlit molds created using castings of the cemetery’s headstones; pressed botanicals in light boxes; paintings, drawings, and more.

“For Illumine, I’ve selected a path in Oakland that showcases the garden at its peak. As the sun goes down, visitors will see how light and art complement the natural forms along the walk,” said Sanchez, who has worked as a gardener at Oakland Cemetery for more than eight years.

Painter Charles Ladson, designer and stylist Elizabeth Ingram, and filmmaker Steve Bransford accompany Sanchez at Illumine.

Ladson, a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, has shown extensively throughout the southeast. Ladson describes his work as “a culmination of ideas, movements, commitments, and random occurrences.” Four of his oil on canvas paintings will be on display at the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse, which will transform into a pop-up gallery for the night.

Designer, artist, and stylist Elizabeth Ingram currently works as Chef Ford Fry’s restaurant designer. Ingram’s installation for Illumine explores the concept of memorialization and memory, using Victorian-era portraiture and materials used in preservation during ancient times.

For over five years, filmmaker Steve Bransford has collaborated with Sanchez to produce a documentary on plantsman and gardener Ryan Gainey. Excerpts from their film will be projected during Illumine.

“Oakland’s gardens serve as the perfect canvas for artistic interpretation, and with the rare opportunity for guests to enjoy the cemetery at nighttime, Illumine will be a truly memorable evening in Atlanta,” said Mary Woodlan, director of special events at Historic Oakland Foundation.

Proceeds from Illumine benefit Historic Oakland Foundation and the cemetery’s gardens.