Eugene E. Cline: Georgia Horticulturist, Plant Collector, & Conservationist

Eugene Cline pictured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution magazine, 1973, Georgia Botanical Society records, MSS 979.

Of the many treasures in Goizueta Gardens at Atlanta History Center, the Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden is perhaps one of the most unique and fascinating. Rehabilitated from a granite quarry in operation from the 1880s to around 1920, this garden contains Georgia’s largest collection of native plants from pre-settlement Georgia. In 1974, the Mimosa Garden Club’s Quarry Garden Committee sought the experienced knowledge of a leading horticulturist, Eugene Cline, to help oversee the transformation of the three acre quarry to an oasis of native flora and wildlife for all to enjoy.

Eugene Cline, a native of Cherokee County, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Math from the University of Georgia and a Master’s degree in Math from Auburn University. With his wife, Margarita, the Clines lived in Columbus, Georgia, where Cline worked with the Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts and taught at Jordan High School. In 1958, they moved back to Canton and began building a house and garden on family land on Byrd Mountain. While teaching industrial arts at Cherokee High School,

Cline built not only a house, but most of the furniture within, all the while collecting native, rare, and unusual plants for their garden.

Gardens de Pajarito Montana (Gardens of Little Byrd Mountain) grew to over 50 acres and became home to thousands of native plants acquired by the Clines, one of the largest private collections in Georgia. The garden includes over 75 varieties and species of magnolias, 70 varieties and species of maples, 65 varieties of hemlocks, 150 types of rhododendrons reaching 8 to 12 feet, over 300 species of conifers, 25 species of native azaleas and numerous varieties of mountain laurel, all connected by many trails.

Cline corresponded and exchanged plants with horticulturists and plantsmen around the country and beyond. World-renowned English horticulturist Sir Harold Hillier visited Cline’s garden four times. In the 1980s, Dr. Frederick Meyer of the National Arboretum named Cline’s garden as the best private collection of native plants in the South. As Cline explained in the Atlanta Journal in 1973, “I carry a lot of people through here every year. I hope they will see and learn a lot about native plants and go away with enough appreciation to want to use and protect them.”

In 1972, Cline was elected president of the Georgia Botanical Society, where members strived to preserve, protect, and promote Georgia’s native flora. The same year, Cline was awarded the Outstanding Amateur Horticulturist Award by the American Horticultural Society. An active conservationist and member of the Georgia Conservancy, Cline worked to preserve a tract of undisturbed land on Pine Log Mountain in Cherokee County in the early 1970s, now a designated wildlife management area.

While serving Atlanta History Center (nee Atlanta Historical Society) as Horticulturist from 1973 to 1976 for the Quarry Garden project, Cline worked with the Grounds Committee Chairman Florence Griffin, botanist Norma Seiferle, and the Mimosa Garden Club to create a native plant collection. Cline supervised the establishment of a streambed, waterfalls, bog garden, paths, and tackled issues such as drainage and redirecting the streambed. He skillfully selected native plants, wildflowers, and shrubs to add to the existing native flora. Today, the garden flourishes with beautiful plants including medicinal plants, yaupon holly, oakleaf hydrangeas, native azaleas, ferns, wildflowers, and a Franklin tree (now extinct in the wild). Cline’s expertise provided invaluable direction to help make the Quarry garden a sanctuary for native plants and wildlife.

For more information about Cline’s important work, we invite you to explore MSS 979 Georgia Botanical Society records; VIS 257 Georgia Botanical Society photographs; the Eugene Cline personality file; and the Atlanta Historical Society Gardens, Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden association file.