The Jonquils are Blooming Again

In the spring of 1976, when I was turning five years old, my family bought an old home-place just outside the city limits of Smyrna, Georgia. The house was overgrown and in need of quite a bit of work, but my energetic parents were intrigued by the place, and I guess they thought they were up to the task of restoring it to order. The place had been neglected for quite some time, and nature was well into the process of reclaiming it–boards were falling off the house, privet hedge in the yard was over 15 feet high, and kudzu was running wild everywhere.

The Ruff Farm, 1976

As we set to work making it habitable again that spring, we were surprised to see some beautiful yellow flowers blooming amidst the chaos and entropy, a relic of days gone by, a sign of previous civility. The blooming daffodils seemed entirely unaware that the place had been abandoned. These flowers were coming up amidst fallen trees overrun with vines, yet in distinct rows laid out in a rectangular bed, suggesting order and planning in the mind of a former gardener long absent. We picked a few bouquets of jonquils that spring, which livened up the old house as she underwent a much needed transformation.

Michael, Andrew, and Philip Ivester with Jonquils, 1976

I will wager now that not a single year went by in the next fifteen years without a bouquet of February jonquils being brought into house to celebrate the changing of seasons–the first sign that winter would not last forever, that summer was coming. That life follows death, and death will not be the end.

My family eventually moved away from Smyrna and put the old home-place on the market. Four years later we were still unable to find a buyer when I found myself a college student at Georgia Tech in my Junior year, looking for a place to live off campus. I had gone back to Smyrna one day that summer to cut the grass and do all the other maintenance that was required at the old house to keep it marketable. Walking around the grounds of my childhood home, it did not take long to realize it would be perfect to live there and drive into Atlanta for school. I soon worked out a rental arrangement with my parents for me and some of my college friends. The next spring I was quite surprised when, out in the front pasture, the jonquils I had forgotten about for several years returned again. They were not bothered at all by years of neglect, but seemed to be thriving instead.

The Jonquils bloomed likewise every year until I was married and invited my bride to come and live with me at the old home-place. I brought in a yellow bouquet the next February, and my wife, Lanier, told me that her family dearly loved that particular bulb. She told me her great grandmother, Lena May Gann Green, had given Smyrna the name “The Jonquil City”.

Lena May had taken a trip in the 1930s up to Canada for a Baptist convention and met people from all over the Continent. According to the family story, when Lena May introduced herself as being from Smyrna, Georgia, someone asked if that was anywhere near the lovely place that sold the beautiful yellow flowers along the Dixie Highway on the way to Florida. Lena May responded quickly: “Yes, that’s Smyrna–the Jonquil City.” On her return home, she was excited to announce that Smyrna was known internationally by this flower. Local garden clubs welcomed the slogan, and encouraged everyone to plant more of the bulbs in order to beautify the city.

The city slogan continues to this day, and city-wide “Jonquil Festivals” are now held twice a year.

These particular jonquils in my yard could have been planted by the previous occupants Ian and Virginia Milroy who lived here from the 1940s until the 1970s. I think it more likely that their predecessors planted them–the Ruff family who lived here from the 1850s until the 1940s. Rex and Mamie Ruff, the last occupants from the Ruff Family, were living here during the 1920s when the Dixie Highway was completed, connecting cities as far north as Chicago to beaches in Florida as far south as Miami.

The Marietta Daily Journal recorded several anecdotes related to Smyrna’s new slogan in the 1930s, transcribed below:

March 19th, 1936:

“The Jonquil City” — And now the thriving little city of Smyrna has laid claim to the title of the “Jonquil City” which to our mind seems quite appropriate. We have never seen more jonquils blooming in any other city as we have in Smyrna. We understand that the late Mrs. J. W. Fuller was probably the person who inaugurated the jonquil idea there. She planted the grove surrounding her attractive home on the highway with these lovely little harbingers of spring and sold them to the tourists and passersby and gave the money to the church. So lovely were the rows and rows of flowers at Mrs. Fuller’s place that the idea grew and other people began to set out more and more jonquil bulbs until now Smyrna lays claim to this interesting title, the Jonquil City, which is well deserved.

February 15th, 1938:

“Jonquil Village” Dispensing Quick Its Bulbous Plant
The “Jonquil City of the South,” a title claimed by Smyrna garden clubs for their community for many years, was fast dispensing of the small yellow flower to numerous excursionists and lovers of the bulbous plant. The Dixie Highway from Smyrna as far south as Log Cabin community was once again lined with youngsters crying “Jonquils, Jonquils for sale.”
Garden clubs of Smyrna planted the winter flower as a means of beautification and in short time the city and nearby communities became famous as the settlement of jonquils.

Driving on the Dixie Highway, 1915 (Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, University System of Georgia)

November 14th, 1939:

New Slogan for City of Smyrna
Smyrna, Ga. This city will be slogan-ed “The Jonquil City of the South” in the future. A contest conducted by the Men’s club suggested this slogan, which informally has been used for many years in the past. The club approved a motion to publicize the slogan on huge signs to be placed at main roads leading into the city.

February 14th, 1940:

Smyrna, Jonquil Not Daffadil City
Smyrna, Ga. They were looking for the man who refers to Smyrna as the daffadil community here today. After the men’s club instructed purchase of signs publicizing Smyrna as the “Jonquil City of the South” one sign turned up as the “Daffadil City of the South.” Investigation revealed that a club member made the error in employing a signer. The Men’s club will post them as soon as corrections are made.

The unfortunate club member not only used the wrong flower name, but also misspelled “Daffodil”.

March 3rd, 1944, the Atlanta Journal records the following about Ida Blanche Ruff, daughter of Henry Clay Ruff who ran Ruff’s Grist Mill and lived in the miller’s house:

No one can remember when jonquils were not bountiful in Smyrna. Mrs. P. M. Rice, a lifelong resident of Cobb, remembers from childhood seeing there a profusion of the gold-throated flowers that herald the arrival of spring. Hardly a house can be found without its jonquil plot.

Mrs. Rice, Smyrna’s largest jonquil gardener, has shipped thousands of the buds to cities in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, and as far away as Portland, Oregon. When the plant pushes through the earth in early spring, it pushes up through the mat of dead grass, making the stems long and keeping the mud from splashing on the flowers. Not to mention making the ground rich. Neighbors say Mrs. Rice has lived in Smyrna 32 years, and they have never known her to burn a leaf.

Mrs. Rice got her first jonquil plants as a bride from her father’s home at Ruff’s Mill on Nickajack Creek. She transplanted the bulbs to her husband’s plantation three miles from Smyrna. Years later, when she moved to town, she brought the bulbs with her.

Ever since anyone could remember, schoolboys with an eye to financial profit have lined the highway to sell bunches of jonquils at 10 cents per 15 blooms. Back in the days before the gas and tire shortage, Atlantians and residents of other nearby communities drove to Smyrna on sunny afternoons to buy bunches of the flowers. To Smyrna old-timers, boys on the highway selling jonquils are as good a sign of spring as the urge to play hooky or go fishing.

Ida Ruff Parker’s childhood home

August 15th, 1946:

Jonquil City Hopes For ‘Golden Day’
Smyrna. “How did Smyrna come to be known as ‘The Jonquil City of the South?'” asks a letter received recently by Mayor Lorena Pace Pruitt form the Georgia Tourist Association. The idea of calling Smyrna “The Jonquil City” is attributed to Mrs. G. C. Green, Smyrna club woman. In 1938, Mrs. Green was attending a Baptist World Alliance in Toronto, Canada. One of the delegates asked her, “What is the name of that lovely little city in Georgia that has so many beautiful yellow flowers?” Upon returning to Smyrna, Mrs. Green referred to the town as “The Jonquil City of the South.” Later, she suggested to the garden club that it should give official recognition to the title.

Attention of outsiders was drawn to Smyrna last spring by an article which appeared in a state wide publication. Since the publication of the story, hundreds have flocked to Smyrna to see the jonquils. Twenty years ago, there were few Smyrna homes that did not have carpets of the yellow blooms in the yard each spring. The hills and valleys around Smyrna were covered with them, and little boys sold them on the highway to tourists. Primarily, however, the interest of Smyrnans in jonquils has not been a commercial one. Smyrnans are more interested in the pleasure derived from growing them, than they are in any commercial value they might have.

Jonquil growing has fallen off within the last few years. This is probably due to the war-time scarcity of bulbs. Flower lovers and civic-minded Smyrnans are now urging garden clubs and other interested persons to cooperate in the planting of bulbs, so that Smyrna can keep its claim as the Jonquil City. Some Smyrnans predict a “Jonquil Planting Day” when everyone would take to the garden and set out their bulbs. Jonquils multiply fast, and the yellow blossoms would soon be plentiful.

Within a year or so, Smyrna would present a mass of yellow blooms to give enjoyment to their owners and to entice visitors to the section. Moreover, tourists from the North, East and West would remember Smyrna as a lovely city, the graciousness of its people exceeded only by the beauty of its jonquils–a city that would be remembered as “The Jonquil City of the South.”

And here’s one final bit of jonquil trivia. Did you know that present-day Smyrna requires all new developments to plant jonquils? Municipal zoning code article VII includes the following language:

(717.101) Promotion of Citywide Beautification:
a.  CDD-1—5 – Every new commercial or institutional development shall plant and maintain a bed of jonquils or other appropriate flowers at a location visible from a public right-of-way. [link]

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