The 29th Annual Piedmont Gardeners Garden Tour
The Piedmont Gardeners Tour of Athens returns on April 16 featuring a wide array of garden styles, including:
- A 10,000+ square foot demonstration garden designed to educate, inspire and enjoy
- An in-town garden with intertwined water features and unusual plants
- A formal garden that mixes historic plantings, modern hardscapes and an 1835 home
- An artist’s garden that delights in pleasing the eye and in pleasing native pollinators
“In 29 years, we’ve only had to interrupt the Garden Tour three times,” says Susie Haggard, Garden Selection Committee Chair. A year of severe drought, the 1996 Olympics, and the coronavirus outbreak have been the only deterrents. “We’ve held the tour in rain or shine, whether it was 80 degrees or 40 degrees. It’s a wonderful Athens tradition, a labor of love for the host gardeners, and all for a good cause,” she says.
Proceeds are used to fund scholarships for UGA Horticulture or Landscape Architecture students.
Advance purchase tickets are $15 at: Athens Feed & Seed, Athens Interior Market, Appointments at 5, Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace, Farm 441 @ Thomas Orchards, Gift Shop at the State Botanical Garden and Wild Birds Unlimited. Tickets are $20 at the gardens on tour day or at piedmontgardeners.org. See website for tour details and advisories.
>> See related story: Cofer’s: Growing with Athens for 100 Years
At a time when many local businesses struggle to keep their doors open during the pandemic downturn, one family-owned business marks a significant milestone. Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace turns 100 this year.
When Hal Cofer Sr. opened H.L. Cofer & Company (“Dealers in Seed and Farm Products”) on South Lumpkin Street in 1922, he offered everything a farmer needed to grow a small garden or large acreage, from farming tools and implements to seed and feed, and even baby chicks. Farmers trekked from north Florida to north Georgia to buy their supplies from a company they trusted and respected.
Cofer and his sons Hal Jr., Richard and Donald worked in the retail store and the feed mill. As agriculture became increasingly mechanized, they had to adjust their products to meet the changing demand. Tractors replaced horses and mules, and implements — plows, harrows and drills — were redesigned to work with the new mechanical horsepower. Farms began using more chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds and herbicides. Cotton picking baskets were no longer a top-selling item; by 1968, 86% of cotton was harvested mechanically.
The shift from farm to garden
In 1922, many homes in the South had “kept yards” — carefully raked dirt yards free of grass. By 1961, when Hal Sr. died, Baby Boomers and their parents were moving by droves into ranch-style housing that transformed outdoor space into living space. Lawns, shrubs and flower gardens replaced dirt yards. And the Cofer family business expanded to meet the demand, offering hardware, drills, hammers, individual seed packs, shrubs, and even pots, pans and pets.
“My grandfather and my uncles [and] my father changed the nature of the business to meet what Athens had grown into,” says current owner Stuart Cofer.
When Sanford Stadium began hosting football games in 1929, the University of Georgia purchased the field’s grass seed from Cofer’s. The company also sold frozen orange juice concentrate to the Varsity for their famous Frosted Orange drinks.
In 1993, Cofer’s again expanded its inventory and opened as Cofer’s Home & Garden Showplace in its current location on Mitchell Bridge Road. What began as a well-respected farm supply business 100 years ago is now a booming home and garden store, even in the midst of a pandemic.
Moving forward while looking backward
Today, Stuart and his son Stephen manage the family business. Stuart says that he wants Cofer’s to “continue to evolve with the times, stay involved in the community.” Despite the pandemic, the company has continued to grow as more people stayed at home and invested in their living spaces. Today’s inventory now includes premium grilling equipment, outdoor living furniture, wild bird feeders, garden accents and lighting, as well as an extensive selection of herbs, annuals, perennials and native plants.
“If my grandfather could walk in here today, he would have no clue that this is the company he founded, because it’s not even close to what he started,” Stuart says.
Cofer’s has weathered the twists and turns of history, including the boll weevil, the Depression, wars and recessions, urbanization, big-box store invasions and a world-wide pandemic.
In February, Cofer’s hosted a kick-off event to celebrate their 100th anniversary. Guest speaker and Historic Athens executive director Tommy Valentine explained that “historic” generally refers to a building that is 50 years or older and still retains some of the original character. He noted, “Cofer’s is also historic. They have become as much a fixture of Athens as the streets, parks and historic buildings.”
To celebrate their 100th year, Cofer’s will host a series of events, including an April 9 Spring Gardening with the Family event and onsite discussions, a summer garden harvest cooking class, a UGA football kickoff celebration, and fall harvest recipe sharing around a fire pit. For a full list of events and more videos about Cofer’s, gardening and landscaping trends, and the historic siginificance of the Cofer’s 100-year business, go to cofers.com. Cofer’s was recently recognized as the 2022 Small Business of the Year by the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.
>> Related story: A tour fertile with ideas