by Susan Frampton
Standing like a glorious flower planted in downtown Augusta, Sacred Heart Cultural Center’s spires salute the sky, while stained-glass windows rain colorful petals of light onto those inside the historic building, happily meandering amidst full size trees, sprawling ferns, plate-sized elephant ear plants and intricate displays of fresh, fragrant flowers. One can scarcely imagine anything that might improve on the perfection of this masterpiece of architectural design, yet each spring, the vendors of Sacred Heart Garden Festival perform the horticultural magic that transforms its gilded interior and surrounding grounds into a verdant Garden of Eden.
Even after 10 years of experiencing the transformation that takes place each April, Program Director Kim Overstreet continues to be astonished by the growth that has turned a small-town flower show, begun in 1992, into the significant regional horticultural event that it is today. “It is so exciting,” says Overstreet. “Every arrangement, every year’s designs are different. I never cease to be amazed at each successive festival’s new ideas and innovations.”
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” said the profound Cicero. Had the master orator and politician ever spent a Garden Festival weekend in Augusta surrounded by landscape and floral designers, garden accessories, unique plants and shrubs, and horticultural experts, he would likely have expanded the list a bit.
With something for all ages, and all levels of gardening interest and expertise, Overstreet explains the feast for the senses offered by the sights, smells, and textures of the Garden Festival’s many offerings. “There are so many different colors and fragrances and shapes,” she says. “No matter how many times you’ve been here, you take away something different. It’s like a living organism that changes every day.”
“Whether you have an acre to landscape, you’re replanting a flower bed in your front yard, or you have a single flower pot, there is inspiration around every corner and someone to answer your questions,” she says. “You don’t have to be an old hand at gardening. In fact, we’ve started something called “Seedling Saturday” for children, so that a whole new generation can become conscious about nature and growing things – so that they learn early the excitement of seeing what comes out of the ground and what makes a tree a good thing.”
“The annual Garden Festival Tea on Sunday, April 15, in the beautiful gardens of Mr. and Mrs. R. Daniel Blanton, will launch the festivities,” says Overstreet. “Cookbook author Pat Branning will entertain and inform guests about Georgia, Southern culture, and Southern cooking, and an afternoon tea will be served amidst the magnificent Japanese maples.” The gardens will open early for patron’s enjoyment and the seating for the talk and tea will follow.
In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. – Margaret Atwood
The Garden Festival continues in earnest with Thursday evening’s Preview Party, a ticketed event offering attendees the first look at the extraordinary gardens and outstanding floral exhibits, and the opportunity to have first dibs on unique annuals, perennials, foliage, holiday plants, trees and shrubs. Guests can shop for garden accessories in the Garden Market, all while enjoying food, spirits, and musical entertainment. Tickets must be purchased in advance for this catered event.
The festival opens bright and early on Friday and Saturday mornings, and at noon on Sunday, with daily tickets offering inspiring landscape and floral exhibits, and discoveries of much sought-after plants in the Garden Market. African Market Baskets, French Provencal table linens, and French milled soap, hand-crafted mahogany bird feeders, and garden-inspired watercolors are among the favorite garden accessories also found here.
A separate 3-day ticket is available for those who’d like to take a special Garden Tour and a peek into exceptional private gardens in Summerville, Forest Hills and North Augusta. Each venue is sure to prompt ideas for gardeners to take home and use in their own space.
With so much to see and do, it is no surprise that Sacred Heart Garden Festival has been given a green thumbs-up by all who find themselves fascinated with things that grow.