The other day I went to National City and had lunch with Peg and Jim Burley, long time friends. For many years they were residents at San Miguel Road with a plot of land and a home that had more than its share of plants. For the past 15 months they have been residents of Paradise Village Senior Retirement Home, an edifice that we will highlight in a future column.
Peg took us back some 40 years. That was about the time that they made their home in Bonita and gave genesis to the Bonita Garden Club. The Burleys, like many other navy families, were living in Coronado. They had a family of girls, Lyn who is a veterinarian and Toni a teacher, who were animal and outdoors-minded hence a move to a locale that would accommodate a horse or two was almost a mandate. Bonita fit the bill.
On coming here they discovered there was no garden club or anything else relating to horticulture. In her Coronado days Peg had been a member of the Crown Garden Club and in the move to this area felt she had to belong to something. Chula Vista, it is true, had a garden club but she wanted a bit more.
The answer, of course, is to get people who agreed with her and could be the basis for a local garden club. Here she was going to have everything: doing things that were going to beautify the community, educate, learn more about horticulture and be more adept at floral design. Moreover, it would be a method of getting folks together who enjoy the beauty of nature and who share a desire to make things more beautiful for others.
The year of its founding, 1972, was a memorable year in Bonita. It was also the year of the beginning of the Bonita Business and Professional Association. That organization, of course, as most of us know, is the unit responsible for the annual Bonitafest, a celebration in the valley that involves many organizations.
From the very beginning the Bonita Garden Club was active in furnishing the floral arrangements and other things of that nature. An example of this was the way garden club member Vera Matthais’ car was prepared for the parade. The car, they say, was of questionable origin but the way it was decorated belied its age. Peggy also says that sometimes members of the club marched in the parade dressed as gardeners and even carrying watering cans as their badges of authority.
I recall that in the early days of the Bonita Museum, when it was located at the old firehouse, the Bonita Garden Club was in charge of the decorations in front of the building. The members had planted a Lisbon Lemon Tree in the small garden at the entrance. This, of course, was in memory of the countless number of the same type of lemons that had passed through the old red barn that had been across Bonita Road. Docent tours explained this to the visitor and it added a bit of lore to the history of the valley.
I also recall the many Christmas celebrations that had been staged by the Bonita Garden Club. Members of the community would gather in the vicinity of the valley Christmas tree and on signal the light switch would be energized causing a chorus of oohs and aahs from the youngsters in attendance. Santa Claus would invariably enter the parking space in a Bonita/Sunnyside Fire District fire truck.
Ms. Burley gives credit to many members of the Garden Club who are no longer with us, but who spent many an hour in the work of the club. She mentions such persons as Ruth Tate, she who was around in the beginning, Lillian Castagna, also an old time member who moved to Orange County but could still find the time to come south for special garden club activities.
Then there was Carol Robertson, Lois Vaiana, Barbara Thomas, Mary Farrington, Norma Ellingworth and others who helped shape the organization in the beginning She gives special credit to Betty Albee as one of the founders and the first president.
Peggy also gives much credit to her husband, Jim, who did everything from trucking massive plants to making and serving margaritas. He was always a willing worker. So things in the valley have been a bit brighter because of the efforts of the Burleys. Coronado’s loss has certainly been Bonita’s gain.