In 1972, the Atlanta Historical Society began planning a new administration building, and while searching for a site, rediscovered a three acre, late-19th century rock quarry, choked with unwanted plants and fallen tree trunks. Members of the Mimosa Garden Club were intrigued with the possibilities of developing a unique wild garden. Plans were developed for a path system, and the renovation of the garden with native shrubs, trees and flowers was begun.
After a rudimentary attack on the overgrowth, a veritable outdoor cathedral was revealed – its dome formed by branches of towering trees and its walls, the rocky cliffs of the quarry. Mimosa’s project finding committee concluded as follows: “We see the area as a spot for visitors to enjoy a measure of quiet seclusion, with an opportunity to learn native plant material and birds, as well as connecting the new McElreath Hall, Swan House and the Tullie Smith House Restoration.”
In 1973, Mimosa decided to make the Quarry Garden a permanent project and selected Gene Cline, one of America’s finest horticulturists, to supervise the final clearing, suggest plans for the path system and drainage, as well as handle selection and planting of native shrubs, trees and flowers.
An initial amount of $1,888 had been spent on exploratory clearing and drainage, followed by $6,000 raised in 1973 at the biennial garden party. Before actual planting could begin, work came to an unexpected halt, due to the townhouse development upstream, which sent the run-off from Sears’ large parking lot as well as it s own, into the gentle quarry stream, turning it into a ravaging torrent during heavy rains and leaving a muddy disaster. After a year of lawsuits, the stream was re-engineered and planting resumed in 1975.
In the fall of 1975, a sizeable grant was received form Price Gilbert, Jr. Charitable Fund, which would enable Mimosa to complete the quarry garden sooner than originally expected. The rock quarry was dedicated on March 23, 1976 and named in honor of Mary Howard Gilbert, a founding member of Mimosa and mother of Price Gilbert, Jr.
There are over 150 varieties of native plants in the garden including fine specimens of native azalea and a plantation of 1,200 fern, many holding the raw banks, along with the hydrangeas and hypericum. The flowers are planted in a naturalistic manner – in colonies – and the beds follow the terrain, outlined by rustic paths. The center bog garden has native bog plats from South Georgia such as sarracenia (pitcher plant), buttonbush, bald cypress and golden club. Some of these have disappeared during the past two summers of intense drought, but will be replaced now that a moist summer has brought relief and since a sprinkler system is being planned.
Each spring and summer, weeds have presented a monumental problem, but garden club members, led by Anne Spalding and Sandy Craft, have railed to the continuing maintenance. During the past two years valuable help from Allen Sistrunk and Historical maintenance has been available.
Horticultural groups, school groups, interested visitors and friends are enjoying the peace and beauty of the quarry. A “Guide to the quarry Garden” was published by Mimosa in 1978, funded by the proceeds of an earlier spring party. The delightful pen and ink drawings of wildflowers were the work of Sallie Smith, then President of the Club, and compilation of the booklet was accomplished by Louise Allen, Marian Hilsman and Anne Spalding. Since publication, plants have been added and some have disappeared, so an up-to-date booklet may be desirable in the future.
The amazing amount of over $7,000 raised from the 1982 spring Meadow Lark will be used to install a sprinkler system, refurbish the path system with fresh bark next spring, and pay for adding considerable plant material during this fall and winter. The rock quarry will play a special part in the programs connected with the landscape and gardening design exhibition, “Land of Our Own,” celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of Georgia.
Early and current photographs, as well as more specific details of the quarry development are compiled in a scrapbook, readily available to any interested member. Please get to know your quarry and tell your friends to come and enjoy it. There is something of interest during every month of the year!
In 1982, the Club hired Raleigh Bryans as horticulturist of the Quarry. Raleigh has planted over 50 new specimen wildflowers native to Georgia and expanded other plantings through propagation. In 1986, plant markers for each specimen and an attractive English garden bench were purchased.
The quarry continues to grow in reputation with local photographers and botanists as a tranquil place of rest and study-especially in early spring when lady slippers and shortia are blooming.
Mrs. Ivan Allen, Jr.
Mrs. George Sherrill, Jr.