Originally created 04/09/00

Nickname grew from the truth



The village of Augusta is situated on a rich and fertile plain ...

-- William Bartram, 1773

Augusta has been known as the Garden City for as long as we can remember.

Anyone visiting our town in recent weeks would find the reason obvious.

The beauty of the Masters Tournament and the Augusta National Golf Club is known worldwide and reinforced every year when the lush television images are broadcast.

Augusta takes its garden status seriously, too.

When last summer's drought took out many of the city's publicly planted azaleas, local lawmakers found a $25,000 state grant to replace a portion of them.

The allocation irked some. State Sen. Bill Stephens (he's from north of Atlanta) and members of the Republican caucus publicly criticized the flower fund as a prime example of misplaced budget priorities.

Augusta's leaders smiled and said thank you. Mayor Bob Young even volunteered to plant some posies in honor of the offended lawmakers.

Makes sense to me.

I believe any money Augusta can get to plant flowers is as justified as the occasional promotional costs other cities incur.

We proudly represent the state as the Garden City. It says so on all the signs.

But for a long time I never knew why it said so.

I wasn't alone.

About a year ago a reader wrote in to ask how Augusta got the "Garden City" name. I not only didn't know, but I quickly found a lot of historians and civic leaders who didn't know, either.

That was because none of us asked Emma Mason.

The longtime Augustan not only knew why we got the name, but she also knew who named it -- her aunt, Julia Lester Dillon.

Mrs. Dillon was a rarity earlier in the past century -- a female landscape gardener.

She developed a reputation advising many Northern visitors who came down to enjoy Augusta's mild winters.

One day many, many decades ago, Sidney Ferguson, a local banker, dropped by to ask Mrs. Dillon what she thought would be a good nickname for Augusta.

"He said, `We're doing this promotion about Augusta and it should have a name,"' Mrs. Mason recalled.

Her aunt told him, "It's already named, for heaven's sake -- it's the Garden City of the South.'

"And he liked it. And so he took it back to the committee and they decided it was the name," Mrs. Mason said. "So it didn't take much to christen it."

Mrs. Mason has begun to think more often about Julia Lester Dillon because University of Georgia Extension Service in Atlanta contacted her recently to find out more about her aunt. They are researching the former landscaper and her writings and might republish her out-of-print book Garden Circle of the Year.

It would be a fitting tribute to a woman who accomplished a lot in a pioneering career and, along the way, gave us an image by which others still know us -- a Garden City.

Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107.