On a cloudy and overcast morning, the seniors from First Baptist Church (SAMs) set off for Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs to celebrate spring in all its glory. By the time the church van reached Sheridan, the sun came out and the weather was perfect.
The Gardens were Verna Cook Garvan’s dream. Garvan was one of the first women in Arkansas to own a construction/manufacturing business and was the benefactor of what is now known as Garvan Woodland Gardens.
She grew up in Malvern but attended Holton-Arms, a prestigious Washington, D.C. girls’ school for her secondary education. When her father died in an auto accident in 1934, and her mother and sister wished to take no active part in the family business, she and her then husband, Alonzo Bernard Alexander, decided to manage the holdings. Their residence at that time was Spartanburg, S.C.
After a divorce and the death of a son, Cook moved back to Arkansas permanently and actively pursued her business interests. She became one of the first female chief executives in Arkansas. In the late 1950s, she met and married Francis Patrick Garvan Jr., son of a prominent New York City family who was visiting Hot Springs. After their marriage, they lived in Hot Springs while planning a new home on the dual-peninsula, 210-acre property that is now the site of Garvan Woodland Gardens. She had been initially developing a garden there since about 1955 or 1956 and eventually planted hundreds of species of ornamental and native trees and shrubs.
When Patrick Garvan died unexpectedly in 1975, plans for the home were never realized. Garvan sold her company to Acme Brick in the 1970s, and her efforts were afterward centered on her garden. In 1985, an agreement was signed committing the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville School of Architecture to operate the gardens in perpetuity as a service to the people of Arkansas with Mrs. Garvan remaining in control until her death in 1993.
Eleven years after the signing of the trust agreement, the UofA hired a firm to create a 25-year master plan. The plan was completed in 1999, and implementation began in March 2000, with a new entry road, parking and the four-acre Garden of the Pine Wind, a rock and stream Asian garden. Shortly, thereafter, the wood and native stone Pratt Welcome Center was built and the facility and gardens were officially opened to the public with a dedication ceremony on April 13, 2002. Thus, Garvan Woodland Gardens entered the public eye and began its journey toward being recognized as one of the Top Five Most Spectacular Gardens in America only a decade later in May of 2012.
The day of the trip, the SAMs enjoyed lunch at the Chipmunk Cafe, an outdoor restaurant in the Gardens but managed by Classic Creations Catering.
Those making the trip included the driver, Algie Bost, trip organizer, Jeanette McGrew, Audrey Borecky, John Higginbotham, Joann Kelly, Becky Reed, Sue Smith and Ann Thompson.