When Debbie Williamson moved to the area from north Georgia, she was on the hunt for new friends. Williamson found that in the members of Cassina Garden Club.
The social group, which has been in existence for more than 90 years, is a network of women who share the love of growing things. Williamson was easily accepted into the fold.
“I went to one their bake sales looking for friends ... and what I should plant in my yard that the deer wouldn’t eat,” she said with a laugh. “They really took me under their wing.”
Turns out she got both, a dedicated sisterhood and plenty of gardening advice. Since then, Williamson has settled in to her new home and has even signed on to serve as the organization’s publicity chair for various events.
Williamson has learned all she could along the way, especially about the club’s unique role in the community. First and foremost, she notes, they are responsible for preserving the tabby slave cabins at Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island.
“I think that makes Cassina really unique. A lot of garden clubs have friendships and gardening events but this is a really big responsibility. There is so much history that we’re trying to preserve,” she said. “It takes it to another level, especially when it comes to fundraising.”
Cassina has taken on the task of renovating the cabins in recent years. The project which lasted two years, restored many elements of the two structures at Gascoigne Bluff. The club shares those locations with the public throughout the year with docents manning the location to share historic tidbits about the property.
For the summer, the cabins are open from 10 a.m. to noon each Wednesday in June, July and August. They see roughly 400 to 500 guests annually.
To ensure the cabins are preserved for the future, Cassina has a couple of fundraisers during the year, the biggest being the annual Tabby & Tillandsia Garden Walk. And while the club is large — more than 100 members — they all lend a hand to pull the event together.
“It does require participation and volunteering at events, like our upcoming garden walk,” she said.
“We also work at Hospice of the Golden Isles and with the Girl Scouts. There’s a lot of community activity.”
It’s something the community seems to appreciate and support. They turn out for the group’s events in droves. Williamson expects that to be the case again when the garden walk returns from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 27.
The event features a self-guided tour of seven of the island’s most unique gardens. Docents will be stationed at each location to give an overview of the flora and fauna there. Plein air artists will also be on hand to paint the locations, later offering their works at a “wet paint” sale, which will begin at 3 p.m. at the cabins.
There will be a garden market open to the public as well as a performance by the Golden Isles Youth Orchestra. The Twisted Tiki food truck will be selling coffee and brunch items in the morning. It will feature a special garden menu for the remainder of the day. Tour-goers start their journey at the cabins, where can retrieve their map and peruse the plant sale before or after the tour.
For a newcomer like Williamson, the garden walk event is a way to sneak a peek into some of the most lush yards on St. Simons Island.
“This year, the gardens are very different. There is a wide variety in the yards and homes,” she said.
The homes and gardens selected are likely to provide a dose of inspiration for those attending the tour. And with the garden club member’s knowledge, tour goers will be able to learn how to create similar looks at home.
“It’s basically a showcase of what you can do in your own yard,” Williamson said.
“We hope that people will come and be inspired to go home and plant something in their own yard. But even if you’re not a gardener ... they are still very pretty to look at.”