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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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DUBUQUE CIVIC GARDEN CLUB. Established in March 1935 and affiliated with the Federated Garden Clubs of Iowa, the club was founded to "stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; aid in the protection of native trees, plants and birds; and to encourage civic planting and beautification in the community. (1) The club's first president was Edwin B. LYONS. His wife, Ella B. LYONS, believed Dubuque should be a flower center and originated the idea of a peony trail. The flower was chosen for its blossoms and hardiness. The organization began the famed PEONY TRAIL project with forty dollars in its treasure. By asking citizens who were dividing their plants to contribute, the club ended the year with 5,000 peonies and still had the forty dollars. (2)

In 1936 with more publicity, the club collected another 5,000 peonies. (3) A route was planned and the Garden Club offered free peonies to anyone who agreed to plant them. At the end of September, 1938, Ella Lyons shoveled dirt as Wendelin RETTENBERGER planted the first peony at the start of the trail in WASHINGTON PARK. In two years, ten thousand peonies had been planted in such locations as North and South Grandview Avenue, Fourth Street, Shiras Avenue and EAGLE POINT PARK. After Ella died in 1940, her husband continued her project. In 1941 a bronze plaque in memory of Ella Lyons was dedicated in Washington Park. In the 1970s it was relocated to a flower bed at the corner of Delhi Street and South Grandview. (4)

Metal trail marker. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Confusion about the location of the Peony Trail led the Garden Club in 1943 to use cast-iron markers designed with a pink peony and the words "Peony Trail" in raised blue lettering. In 1947 E. B. Lyons began a trust fund to maintain the trail. In 1972 his estate gave a large sum of money to the city to develop recreational and park areas in the county. (5)

In 1951 the club competed for the first time nationally in the category "flower show achievement" and received the purple award by the National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. This was only the second time an Iowa club had received the honor. (6) The club annually sponsored two flower shows at the Riverside Pavilion at EAGLE POINT PARK. (7)

In 1972 the club maintained the garden around the tourist bureau on Dodge and Locust and the herb garden at HAM HOUSE. The club planned a flower show in August and was ready to cooperate with any group interested in anti-litter campaigns. The agenda called for organizing a Junior Garden Club and sponsoring a three-day flower arranging school for the public. Membership was up to thirty-seven, nearly twice the number who had been involved the previous year. (8)



1. "Dubuque Civic Garden Club is Organized," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, March 3 1935, p. 4

2. "Garden Club Marks 17th Yr.," Telegraph Herald, April 4, 1952, p. 5

3. Ibid.

4. "What is the History of Peonies on Grandview?" Telegraph Herald, July 31, 2010, p. 3

5. Ibid.

6. "Flower Show Gets a Ribbon," Telegraph Herald, November 25, 1951, p. 16

7. "Garden Club Will Dine, Look Back on 17 Years of Progress," Telegraph Herald, March 30, 1952, p. 17

8. "Dubuque Goes Green," Telegraph Herald, April 23, 1972, p. 37