Coral Gables, the city, was the dream of George Merrick. His conception and plan for this beautiful tropical city never ceases to amaze those of us who live here, and the many who visit here. Eunice Merrick said that her husband “planned for Coral Gables to be a botanical garden with flowering trees of different kinds so that there would be flowers at all times during the year.” Planning is one thing, creating is another, but maintaining and enhancing George Merrick’s dream is ongoing.
The history of the Coral Gables Garden Club parallels that of the City. The City of Coral Gables was incorporated on April 29th of 1925 and in that same year, in order “to enhance the City Beautiful, a group of flower plant lovers established the Coral Gables Garden Club.” The first meeting was held in the Casa Loma Hotel with about 30 members present. Mrs. William McGibben was our first president and Mrs. George Merrick served as the second president.
Our Club’s early projects focused on landscaping for public buildings, such as the public schools: Coral Gables Elementary (inner courtyard pictured at left), Ponce de Leon High School (now Ponce de Leon Middle School) , and even a patio at the new University of Miami (established in 1925).
During World War II, the Club urged residents to plant Victory Gardens. When The Biltmore Hotel was turned into a Veterans’ Hospital, Club members beautified its grounds until the government moved the facility.
After the War, when the Coral Gables Youth Center, Coral Gables Senior High, and the Coral Gables Library were built, the Garden Club continued its policy of raising money for landscaping and providing sprinkler systems for these new buildings. Later, their talents spread to the Coral Gables Water Tower and City Hall.
Where did the Coral Gables Garden Club get the funds to support these civic projects? Never underestimate “ladies with a purpose.” Teas, plant sales, and donations from local businesses were sources of money, but the secret to the Club’s success has always been the tireless expenditure of time and talent by every member of the Garden Club.
Over the years, the Garden Club has identified landscaping and beautification needs and set about responding, gaining recognition at the local, state, and even national levels for the Club’s community projects. The Garden Club annually organize trips to local, state, and national flower shows, and invariably win our share of awards.
As early as 1960, it was determined that the Garden Club needed a place to call our own and funds were earmarked for this project. In 1990, Club members dedicated the Garden Center at the Biltmore Hotel and it is our headquarters.
Of special interest to many of members is the Garden Club’s association with the Junior Gardeners of our community, which began in 1964. Since then, Club members have worked with students at several schools to stimulate their interest in gardening and the environment. Camp Wekiva provides week-long summer camp experiences for many children, and the Club annually sponsors several children. Last year, the Garden Club gave a large donation to provide bicycles for the camp.
1973 marked the beginning of the Garden Club’s now-famous Christmas Home Tours. These wonderful tours, focusing on different areas in the City, have become a highly anticipated event for the citizens of Coral Gables and provide funds for our projects. Members and non-members have generously opened their beautifully decorated homes for the tours, while bountiful bake sales, creative plant offerings, and refreshments add to the Tour’s popularity.
When The Merrick House (George Merrick’s family home on Coral Way) became an historic site for the City in 1977, the Garden Club stepped forward to do the landscaping and received the District XII HANDS Award for doing so. When the House was officially opened in 1979, the Garden Club received a bronze plaque of appreciation from the City. Our relationship with the Merrick House from then on has been constant. Every Christmas we decorate this lovely home, inside and out, for the holidays, and place lovely red poinsettias on the broad front steps. We also contribute funds for redecorating and refurbishing.
Plant identification plaques were placed in the Merrick House garden as Club members planted and re-planted many landscaped areas—an ongoing project. Garden Club members dedicate themselves each year to ensuring the Merrick House remains a worthy tribute to George Merrick.
The Coral Gables Library is another special focus of Garden Club members. With so many residents utilizing this attractive building, it was determined that a butterfly garden would be a nice addition. In 2001, this lovely project, complete with benches and pathways, was completed and dedicated. In spring of 2009, the Club raised the money and commissioned a beautiful butterfly sculpture to be placed inside the Library, and it was dedicated in June.
Each year, in Conjunction with the City, the Garden Club celebrates Arbor Day by planting specially designated trees in various park ares within the City.
Currently we have some scrapbooks in the University of Miami’s Digital Archives.