Speaker tells how his gardening expert grandmother helped 20th century women to grow
Fletcher Pearson Crown left DeKalb County and other spots across America more beautiful as she turned her love of flowers and gardening into a pursuit that would lead to new garden clubs, business ventures, and empowerment for women.
“She was an amazing woman,” her grandson Treadwell Rice Crown III said in his April 18 presentation at DeKalb History Center. “She loved to help people grow in every meaning of the word. Her garden clubs were fun. They weren’t just about gardens; they are about women expanding their power. She had a great sense of humor and loved engaging with people. Her motto was ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’” he said.
Fletcher Crown, who was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1880s, stood out from other women of her time, according to her grandson. “It was rare for a girl to finish high school back then. She not only finished high school, but she also entered a women’s college in Virginia, though she left without a degree and married my dad.” He noted that she later earned a correspondence diploma from American Landscaping School.
“She was a lifelong learner and an entrepreneur at a time when women weren’t encouraged to go into business. The glass ceiling was firmly in place for women in the early 20th century; they often had to be very creative to find ways to earn money,” Treadwell Crown continued.
He said both her interest in plants and her entrepreneurial spirit showed up at an early age. “As a child,” he said, “she would plant a flower, enclose it in glass, and invite her little friends to come see it; but they couldn’t see it for nothing, they had to give her something.”
Fletcher Crown moved to Decatur in 1924 when her husband took a job in the Atlanta area. The DeKalb County seat was her home for the next 35 years. The young family bought property adjacent to Agnes Scott College, the current owner of the property. There she became a charter member of the Decatur Women’s Club, taking a particular interest in its gardening division. She started a gardening school and taught not only in Decatur but also in other north Georgia cities such as Cartersville and Rome, according to her grandson.
The 1930s were his grandmother’s “boom decade,” Treadwell Crown said. “She got to go to Europe and, of course, visited as many gardens there as she could. She came back with some European ‘street cred,’ so her gardening school became popular at a time when many people were taking an interest in beautifying their homes, gardens, and communities.”
Fletcher Crown interested some department stores in hiring her to teach classes in their gardening departments and newspapers into hiring her to write gardening columns, give tour lectures, and appear on radio programs.
“They apparently thought they were just doing something nice for lady customers, but—based on letters she received from these companies—they were surprised that she was significantly increasing sales.”
Along with gardening, Fletcher Crown taught landscaping, flower arranging, and—a frequent flower show judge herself—how to judge flowers in a competition.
Her grandson showed copies of such newspapers as The Atlanta Constitution, The Birmingham News and The Selma Times Journal, expressing amusement that stories of Fletcher Crown’s gardening activities often appeared on the front page along with stories of the early rumblings of events that led to World War II in Europe. “On the same page with a story about Hitler was one with the headline ‘Mrs. Fletcher Pearson Crown Opens Garden Club Wednesday,’” he said.
After the United States became involved in the war, Americans were urged to plant “victory gardens”—home fruit and vegetable gardens to assure families had food while resources were limited by the war, Treadwell Crown noted, explaining that during that period she became involved in teaching people to grow food.
Her favorite flower was the camellia, a bloom popular in south Alabama where she grew up but thought by many to be unsuitable for the Atlanta area. Fletcher Crown not only proved them wrong with the camellias she grew successfully in Decatur and other places well north of Montgomery, but in 1959, The American Camellia Society adopted a variety of camellia for which she is listed as cultivar. An example of it currently blooms on the Agnes Scott College campus.