By Mary Helen Kelly
It began 40 years ago in a telephone closet in the basement of the Atlanta History Center.
The collection was small then. It contained only about 100 books.
Now, with more than 30,000 objects relating to gardening and landscaping, the Cherokee Garden Library is among the premier gardening libraries in the southeastern United States, says Staci Catron, the library’s director.
The library, part of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center, focuses on collecting materials related to the land and gardening of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, and includes everything from photographs to landscape drawings to postcards to seed catalogs. Catron says the collection is home to some objects so rare that libraries in Chicago and New York do not have them.
“I like it because it’s got a very specific focus and mission, and no one else in the world is doing it, which makes it unique and fun,” said Catron.
The fact that no one else in the world is doing what this library does makes it a popular place for landscape architects and designers, gardeners and artists – “from Girl Scouts to post-docs and everyone in between” – to do research, Catron said. Materials are also requested electronically from around the world.
Catron says the library focuses a lot on relevance. For example, the oldest book in the collection, “The Profitable Art of Gardening” by Thomas Hills and published in London in 1586, still carries important information for readers today.
After reading a selection aloud about growing herbs and why one would do that, Catron said, “When you flip through it and read any passage, it really resonates now.”
With the 40th anniversary of the library happening this year, Catron wants to keep the collection relevant and relatable.
Existing for 40 years “shows the importance in the community” and that “this collection has stayed relevant,” Catron said.
“One of the great things about studying gardening and the land is it’s always the same purpose – we’re trying to heal our bodies and our hearts, and our minds and our souls,” says Catron.
In honor of the 40th anniversary, garden writer Ken Druse will speak in October at the Atlanta History Center.
“In the last decade we have made it a core part of our mission to bring speakers on relevant topics,” said Kinsey Harper, president of the library’s board.
Four pieces highlighting the contents of the Garden Library are also on special display as part of the “Four for the Fortieth” exhibit this year. The pieces include Philip Miller’s The Gardeners Dictionary, Jane Wells Loudon’s The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants, Loula Kendall’s “Bellwood Plantation” pastel on paper, and Hastings’ Seed Catalogue No. 44, Fall 1912.
The materials were “selected to highlight and celebrate the materials housed in the Cherokee Garden Library,” according to a press release.
Both Catron and Harper said the point to preserving the library’s extensive collection of books and objects is so people can relate to them now. Harper said the library is “constantly building,” with an acquisitions committee headed by Catron.
“We want to honor the past and preserve it, but we want to stay relevant in the 21st century. We are celebrating four decades, and optimistically looking forward to the next four decades,” said Catron.
For more information on the Cherokee Garden Library and its 40th Anniversary events, visit AtlantaHistoryCenter.com/CherokeeGardenLibrary.