SMITH COLUMN: Botanical Gardens

Published 9:00 am Saturday, May 11, 2024

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The State Botanical Garden of Georgia annually hosts a fundraiser at the University of Georgia which it bills as “Gardens of the World Ball.”

It is a black-tie outing which attracts a doting constituency with a bent for  bringing about support of the gardens and to offer an opportunity for international travel to explore head turning parterres everywhere.

Egypt, Australia, Italy, Kenya, Paris, Iceland, the Blue Danube, Monet’s Garden at Giverny, China and Russia are among the destinations where botanical aficionados have stopped over the years.

This splendid evening, orchestrated and fine-tuned by Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, Director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, has an air of sophistication in which everybody is all smiles, dressed well, and buoyed with elevated and inspirational emotions. If this event had been covered by the Hahira Gold Leaf, it would be said enthusiastically and without restraint “that a good time was enjoyed by all.”

For several years Truett Jarrard, a retired cardiologist, has invited us to join him and Susan Thompson, and their friends to this gathering of those with resources to promote an event that champions the environment, the magnificent floral world, and an institution of higher learning so that those with and without means can enjoy communing with nature by simply walking the grounds. One of Jenny Cruse-Sanders’ initiatives has been to emphasize children’s programs. How nice!

At our table there was Mary Bess and Geoff Cole, Winston and Sally Wilfong and Mark and Betsy Ellison—all, including Truett, linked professionally to the medical society.  They could have served as an emergency room staff had the need manifested itself.

There was a signature twist to this year’s theme which heightened my personal interest in this uplifting and singular gathering.  The Gardens teamed up with “Georgia Grown” for the theme of this year’s ball—“Tractors to Tuxedos” with appropriate props of agriculture tastefully displayed.

Guests were photographed in front of a Ford tractor with a pitchfork in place, a reflection of that traditional rural scene of grandpa in overalls and straw hat with granny in her feed sack dress and apron.

Commissioner of Agriculture, Tyler Harper, was there in a tux, but also an upscale cowboy style hat which was in keeping with the dress for the evening.  He dons a typical cowboy hat when he is in the fields and for official agricultural functions, but has a fetching black hat, appropriate for such evenings as the “Gardens of the World Ball.”

This man is much more than a politician.  A graduate of UGA, he is a farmer who still drives a pickup truck and a tractor on his farm in Ocilla when he isn’t out and about the state, touting “Georgia Grown,” products and seeking ways and solutions that benefit farmers across the state. Agriculture remains the leading industry in Georgia, and its 17th commissioner of agriculture represents openness, youth, vitality, and goodwill.  Nobody appreciates fulfillment from the soil more than this Georgian

The menu reflected products from producers across the state:

First Course:  Pecans from Pearson Farms, Ft. Valley; honey from Allison’s Honey Farm in Cleveland.

Second Course: Chicken from Springer Mountain Farms, Baldwin, and kale from Baker Farms, Norman Park.

Third Course: Strawberries from Dickey Farms in Musella and peaches from Genuine Georgia of Ft. Valley in association with Pearson Farm and Lane Southern Orchards, Ft. Valley, Dickey Farms, Musella, and Fitzgerald Fruit Farm in Woodbury.

When the evening was subsiding, there was that especial comfort of contentment, realizing that the meal was better—knowing that its staples were produced in Georgia, which in turn makes you anxious to remind your grocer to stock food items from our state; and to sing the praises of our many agricultural researchers and scientists—never failing to remember the famers and the field workers who labor to see that the best foodstuffs are at our fingertips when we go grocery shopping.

Owing to the hospitality of my good friend, Truett, I have been enjoying the “Gardens of the World Ball” for several springs now, but the most recent edition was, perhaps, the best—one in which an indelible meal was accented by food produced in our state by Georgians who make a living by providing food that makes mealtime special across the state’s 159 counties.

The only thing missing was my mother’s cornbread.