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PARKS: Where Nature Meets Community


June 14, 2022

The GC of Aiken Creates a Garden at Banksia

The “Winter Colony” cottage Banksia, now known as the Aiken County Historical Museum, is a place where nature meets community. The grounds are a public park and the museum is a space to share the community's history. Together, they embody the philosophy of Frederick Law Olmsted - that parks should function to serve our mental, social, and physical health. The Garden Club of Aiken, through collaborative efforts and long-range planning, has worked to enhance the property for greater community enjoyment.

In 2015, the Garden Club of Aiken adopted an overgrown portion of Banksia. The club devoted hundreds of hours to redesigning and rejuvenating a neglected area of the property into a beautiful garden space. Club members continue to meet regularly to maintain the area (dedicated to the memory of Claudia Phelps, the club’s founder as well as founder of the Garden Club of South Carolina). The Claudia Phelps Garden has become a popular spot for photographs and serves as a backdrop for outdoor events. In celebration of The Garden Club of America’s parks initiative celebrating Olmsted’s 200th birthday, the club decided to concentrate and expand club efforts at the historical museum. Members worked with the Aiken County Parks and Grounds division and Friends of the Banksia to coordinate a grounds improvement plan that would heighten the visitor experience, offer more outdoor activity space, and improve the landscape in time for the museum's fiftieth anniversary celebration. Walkways were cleared, seating areas were defined, and vistas improved. Visitors can now enjoy the pathways around the large estate that link garden areas to seating areas and historical buildings. 

The next step of the project was to add an outdoor picnic area on an underutilized patio that overlooks the hilly meadow and entrance to the Hitchcock Woods. The Garden Club of Aiken funded the addition of iron picnic tables and chairs. The shaded, level picnic area is easily accessed from visitor parking and is near the Hitchcock Woods and downtown Aiken. It offers space for outdoor meetings and educational activities. The area expands the use of the property and draws visitors down to explore the historic China Springs School House and Ergle Cabin. 

Timing and scope of the project has been fortuitous. The museum was recently awarded a grant through the South Carolina Humanities Council for the traveling Smithsonian exhibit Voices and Votes: Democracy in America. The entrance to Hitchcock Woods, which the picnic area overlooks, is currently undergoing a large capital project that will include a green space and pollinator garden which will also receive support from the club. 

The Garden Club of America (GCA) is a proud founding partner of the Olmsted 200 bicentennial campaign. The GCA's contribution to the celebration is the unprecedented opportunity for all 199 GCA clubs to connect the needs of their communities with Olmsted’s revolutionary vision for parks and public landscapes by participating in the GCA’s initiative, Parks: Where Nature Meets Community. Each club project helps their local community public spaces while collectively celebrating Olmsted’s genius for public access to nature across the country.



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