Waco and Flowers

Original Airdate: April 17 (2012)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

Even with its dry spells, wind, and blistering heat, Waco has enjoyed a bounty of flowers over the years.

Mary Sendón recalls the Cotton Palace expositions held in the early 1900s in the Bell's Hill area:

"They kept the grounds so beautiful. You never saw so many chrysanthemums in all your life as you would see at the Cotton Palace. They planted those things early. Every row that led up to the new—there were several different areas—they led to the main building—and every one was bordered with chrysanthemum flower beds. And they had the flower building, the florist building there, with all of the flowers. Florists came together even from outside and had beautiful arrangements."

Florist Harry Reed describes a few of the local flowers his family sold before it became common to import flowers from all over the world:

"We raised a lot of marigolds in the summertime. That's a crop that you can—an outdoor crop that you can grow. We grew dahlias, a lot of dahlias, because we couldn't get much else. And the flower now known as lisianthus, grows wild down around Willis, Texas. And we used to ship those wildflowers. About the only two flowers we had during July and August, that time of the year, was bluebells and marigolds, and we sold lots of them. (laughs) But now nobody would think about using those things."

Alva Stem, former director of Waco Parks and Recreation, tells about some of the vegetation added to Cameron Park during his tenure:

"The vinca vine that grows wild on the slopes, we transplanted that into various hills for soil erosion as well as color because in the springtime it would come out with a beautiful blossom. And then we would plant bluebonnets out there; these would be along the scenic right-of-way. One of them was going up toward the Cameron Park Clubhouse. That was one of the big areas that we put the bluebonnets. And it bloomed for years until the drought just got it all."

With funding from former Congressman Bob Poage, Miss Nellie's Pretty Place was created in Cameron Park in the 1980s. Max Robertson was Waco Parks and Recreation director during that time and describes the implementation of the site:

"I remember the first year had the most magnificent show of wildflowers, and I've not seen it look anywhere near as good as it looked that first year. [In] fact, we had, in our research—and Mr. Poage was highly involved in that—we were hooked up with, at the time, one of the top wildflower persons in the state, a fellow by the name of John Thomas who owns a company called Wildseed. This John Thomas came in and seeded the park. It was a beautiful red—it was a poppy that actually was not a native species that Mr. Thomas said, ‘This is going to be a sure-fire flower so you'll have it when you open.' And he was absolutely right; it was a beautiful sea of red over that Miss Nellie's."

Perhaps because of the frequent harsh weather conditions in Central Texas, residents can enjoy the contrasting beauty of the area's flowers all the more.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.

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