By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Club members (front row, from left) Evelyn Barken, Virginia Bastedo, Nancy Norris and (back row, from left) Jean Azar, Mary McDonald, Barbara Busby and Ann Magroder.

The Riverside West Garden Club started because of a sign adorned with sunflowers.

The year was 1968. The “Riverside” neighborhood had just been built off Riverside Drive in Sandy Springs.

Homeowner Virginia Bastedo placed a sign on her mailbox inviting gardeners to her home in hopes of sprucing up the new streets of the development. Twenty-five women met Feb. 21, 1968 at Bastedo’s home.

“Her room was full,” said charter member Nancy Norris. “Everybody had a new home,” she said, and was interested in landscaping the neighborhood.

The group grew to 50 members by April and work began that fall installing plants like dogwood trees and crape myrtles in eight landscape islands around the neighborhood.

The club, for the last 42 years, has maintained those islands that now feature established trees and evergreen shrubs. Each year members plant seasonal flowers and decorate the neighborhood for Christmas.

“We’ve been very focused on beautifying the neighborhood,” said Barbara Busby, a life member of the club.

Over the years, the club also has reached beyond the Riverside neighborhood. Members of the Riverside West Garden Club — which now has 33 members and meets the third Monday of the month from September to May — have volunteered their green thumbs for several nonprofit organizations, churches, schools and hospitals around Sandy Springs, Buckhead and Atlanta.

“I think we are really a volunteer organization that specializes in gardening,” Busby said.

The garden club was honored earlier this year, and in 1992, as “Garden Club of the Year” by the Fulton Federation of Garden Clubs.

“It’s been a good club,” Norris said. “We are very busy.”

One of the club’s biggest community service projects has been landscaping the historic Williams-Payne House since it moved to Sandy Springs Circle in 1975. Members maintain rose and wildflower gardens on the property and some have served as docents. The rose garden features pinkish-red antique roses that were clipped from cemetery roses dating from the 1850s, said current club president Jean Azar.

The garden club also has planted numerous trees, shrubs, bulbs and roses at local schools.

The club was commissioned to design the original landscape plan for Riverwood International Charter High School, and for 10 years, members maintained an herb garden at the school after the creation of a culinary arts department in 1997.

To honor the club’s first three presidents, three trees were planted at the entrance of Heards Ferry Elementary School. In 1998, the club gave away 1,000 seedlings to students at the school in honor of Arbor Day.

“We’ve also been very involved with hospitals,” said Ann Magroder.

The club has donated money to landscape Northside Hospital and planted trees at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and the Shepherd Center.

The club, in 1976, helped save Crossroads Atlanta Primitive Baptist Church in Sandy Springs from demolition. “The county had stakes out,” Bastedo said, and was going to bulldoze the church. “We went to the people of the church.”

Club members helped raise awareness about the historical value of the church by holding events where they dressed in period clothing. The club also contacted the state Department of Historical Resources and got replaced the marker on the site that described how Union Gen. William T. Sherman once used the area as his headquarters. The club won a state award that year for their work to help save the church.

The garden club gave $1,000 to the 30-acre Big Trees Forest Preserve in Sandy Springs when it was established in the 1990s. The club also has donated money to nonprofit organizations such as the Atlanta History Center, Chattahoochee Nature Center and Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Recently, members pulled together $1,000 to purchase a flower planter on Roswell Road at the corner of Hammond Drive, a project organized by Art Sandy Springs.

The club raises money through activities such as wine tastings, plant sales, bridge benefits, fashion shows and, more recently, the sale of pine straw.

“We have never stopped doing things,” Magroder said. “We have never sat back on our laurels and done nothing.”

The club’s next meeting is Sept. 20. For membership information, if you live in the Riverside area, contact Evelyn Barken at (404) 252-5012.