The following story is from the “Ojai Valley New’s” OJAI GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY — 1921 to 1971 celebratory booklet. The story is reprinted here with the permission of the Ojai Valley News.
Garden Club Founded in ’26
The Fight to Preserve the Giant Native Oaks
Every year the front inside page of the Garden Club yearbook has this line—“Founded in 1926 by Mrs. Frank Osgood.” The small group of women who started the Ojai Valley Garden Club were first of all gardeners. They wanted to know how to grow things in the Ojai and especially how to preserve the natives.
At the early meetings the members brought specimens to show each other and to discuss how best to cultivate them. They had speakers expert in their fields. One of the early speakers was Lockwood deForest, a landscape architect from Santa Barbara, who gave a series of lectures on what plants to grow in which part of the valley.
These pioneer members were the ecologists of their day, eager to preserve the beauty not only of Ojai Valley but also of all Ventura County. The Ojai Valley Garden Club was an outgrowth of a county wide garden club started in 1923. The original eleven members from Ojai have gone, except two—Mrs. Austen Pierpont and Mrs. Alfred Reimer.
The earliest minutes speak of preserving the oaks, sycamores and other trees native to Ojai—of the fights with county and city to prevent ruthless destruction of native growth to widen roads and highways.
One of the Club’s first projects was the planting of live oaks along West Ojai Avenue on both sides. These Memorial Trees honored first the unknown soldier killed during World War I, and then various Ojai persons whom we wished to honor. Club members did the planting, replanting when trees died, watering and battling those who craved their destruction to widen Ojai Avenue. Many of the trees still survive.
Creek Road winding among oaks and sycamores from Ojai to Arnaz Ranch has been preserved so far due to the Ojai Garden Club. The Club has a statement in writing from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors stating that no tree may be cut down along Creek Road without first contacting the Ojai Garden Club.
Memorial Rock near the Bank of America [at the east end of the pergola in front of Libbey Park] was first suggested at a meeting in 1946. In 1947 the Ojai Lions Club set up the rock and asked the Garden Club to landscape around it. It did. A plaque bearing the names of the men who went from Ojai to fight in World War II was placed on the rock. In 1951 Austen Pierpont presented a plan for improving the memorial which the Garden Club accepted. It cashed its war bonds to put in a wall around the area and put in plants contributed by the members with their planting supervised by a Garden Club Committee.
Where Highway 33 (then called 399) crossed route 150 at what is now the “Y”, there was a triangular piece of ground bare and unsightly. The Garden Club obtained permission to take over this property and plant on it trees, native shrubs and flowers. At first the county watered it. Later the Club took over this job, dragging hoses about then putting in a sprinkler system. It was hard work to keep things growing due to the adobe soil. When the roads were widened, the Y shopping center went in and a 3-way traffic signal established, the triangle became a victim of “progress”.
In 1926 Mr. and Mrs. Austen Pierpont constructed and put up this board. Each month a Garden Club member is responsible for putting flowers in the three vases and notices of interest to gardeners and conservationists on the board. This project survives today [but in another form. Today it is a rectangle vase.]
One of the first plantings done by the then young Garden Club was to put in Matilija poppies and California poppies along Grand Avenue and in the crevices of the Japanese Fountain, which was built on the corner of Grand and McNeil Roads. Bulldozing to widen and straighten Grand destroyed forever both poppies and fountain.
A community Christmas tree was planted in Civic Center (now called Libbey Park). Trees, shrubs and plants were put around the tennis court area and in other parts of the park. The Garden Club is responsible for the planting in the patio constructed by Austen Pierpont. For many years the Garden Club paid the summer water bill of the Civic Center.
Shrubs, trees and flowers have been planted on the grounds of every public school in the valley by the Club—more than once. The Boyd Center, Soule Park and the Y have plants or trees supplied by the Ojai Garden Club. The latest project is the patio on the grounds of the Ojai Library—the interior wall, benches and plants all done by the Club.
The Ojai Garden Club was one of the first to promote zoning and worked closely with the county and city zoning boards.
The redwood signs along the arcade were promoted by the Garden Club, which also prevented signs being put on top of the arcade—all but one, a rooster which flew up to his present perch where no one has been able to shoot him down. [No longer on top of the arcade, the author was referring to a neon sign in the shape of a rooster. It was installed by the first cocktail lounge in Ojai.]
Flower shows, sales of wreaths and decorating the arcade at Christmas have been club projects. This last is accomplished in cooperation with the Ojai Chamber of Commerce.