St. Clair Garden Club adds charm to the city through floral landscaping

Whether cruising the main drag of River Road, strolling along the St. Clair Boardwalk, or visiting the variety of shops at Riverside Plaza, the decorated and colorfully landscaped city of St. Clair stands out, leaving visitors wondering who is responsible for such art.  

Pat O'Connor, previous president of the St. Clair Garden Club.St. Clair Garden Club’s previous president, Pat O’Connor, says they are the ones whose “butts in the air planting or weeding” can be found all around town beautifying the community. 

“We live in a town of artists and gardens,” O’Connor says.

According to O’Connor, the city has always been known to attract visitors as far back as the early 1910s. When First Lady “Ladybird Johnson” advocated beautifying the nation’s cities in 1960, the St. Clair Garden Club was founded.

What began as Ladybird Johnson’s famous anti-litter campaign, allowed stay-at-home wives and mothers at that time, to engage in community-benefiting activities, landscaping, and beautifying areas near St. Clair.

In 1970, O’Connor says Michigan State University faculty members recommended that instead of renovating the older and outdated buildings in St. Clair, an urban renewal of the city take place. Riverside Plaza replaced some of its older buildings, giving visitors a clear view of the St. Clair River and the arch in Palmer Park. The St. Clair Garden Club was responsible for much of the initial landscaping around Riverside Plaza and across the street at Palmer Park. Today the club continues to plant and maintain the flower beds.

Now one of the town’s most popular attractions, the Boardwalk allows visitors to enjoy strolling near the water, picnicking on its grass in Palmer Park, finding a seat to relax on one of its benches, or watching the freighters make their way through the St. Clair River.
Visitors will also find brick pathways, 85 flowering crabapple trees purchased and planted by the Garden Club, and several flower beds. In addition, there are 80 planters and roadside hanging baskets along River Road.
“Every new development in St. Clair has the Garden Club's fingerprints all over it,” O’Connor says.

Frequently partnering with the city of St. Clair, The Historical Museum, Friends of the St. Clair River, and the local Rotary Club, and funded by grants written by the club itself, O’Connor says if people go for a walk anywhere in St. Clair, they are sure to see some of the club members hard at work.

Display of flowers at Palmer Park done by the St. Clair Garden Club.

The arch at Palmer Park is another place where people can see the artistic fingerprints of the St. Clair  Garden Club. Partnered with the city of St. Clair, the arch was one of the Club’s recent projects for an update, with plans for a re-dedication ceremony on June 23 at 1 p.m. in Palmer Park. Spearheaded by the club, several monument stones have been added to commemorate those who participated in the updates, along with planters and a variety of freshly planted flowers.

Decorating the town seasonally throughout the year, one of St. Clair’s popular attractions in the fall months is the straw people display created yearly by the club.

“Folks really enjoy the straw people,” O’Connor says. “One year the police were contacted when one of them fell over and a passerby thought that a real person had collapsed.”

Club members also dress up and participate in the yearly Lighted Santa Parade, and last year they were awarded the best non-profit entry.

The Garden Club also sponsors the St. Clair Farmer’s Market. Open every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the north end of the Riverview Plaza, people can find locally grown produce, honey, flowers, and baked goods. An information table is available to answer questions about gardening, and handmade notecards featuring photos of local gardens around the city are available for purchase. Those profits assist in financing their continued St. Clair beautification efforts. They also host bi-annual garden walks, with the next one planned for July 2025.

“This has been the busiest year ever,” says O’Connor. The first “May Day” of what will now be an annual event occurred last month. Preschool programs in the Plaza provided music, cookies, and snacks while the children gathered and danced around the maypole for fun.

Leona Sebastian (left) and Paulette Butland, members of the St. Clair Garden Club working to beautify the city.

Today the group boasts of having 50 active participants, the largest number of members over all these years - which O’Connor says is “pretty big for a small town.”

The Garden Club meets monthly on the first Thursday of each month. Speakers are frequently invited to teach about gardening, bees, butterflies, and water preservation topics.
Sandy Davis, president of St. Clair Garden Club.
Originally founded for women in 1960, the St. Clair Garden Club now encourages male membership. Members currently range in age from 30 to 80 with diverse backgrounds including retired educators, registered nurses, wives and mothers, small business owners, and “just about anything you can imagine,” O’Connor says.

“We love our community, and as always, for every new development, our Club will be there to help make it pretty,” O’Connor says.

With O’Connor’s term ending, the St. Clair Garden Club’s newest elected president Sandy Davis concludes that the club’s mission has grown over the years, with an added focus on providing education in gardening and environmental protection. She looks forward to expanding the Club’s role as community educators.
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Read more articles by Rita MacDonald.

Rita MacDonald is a U.S. Army veteran and a full-time registered nurse who claims that her Irish and Scottish heritage is the reason for her love of storytelling. She is the mother of two adult sons, “Gummy” to her three grandchildren, loves talking with anyone who will engage in a conversation, and “eats life with a shovel!” In addition to her work with The Keel, Rita is a contributor for the Thumbprint News, an author of three books, and writes a blog at