Keep Natchez Blooming
Annual Sallie Junkin Ballard Award
Recognizing Outstanding Contribution to the Beautification of Downtown Natchez
Named in memory of native Natchezian, Sallie Junkin Ballard (1926-2017), who orchestrated the effort to make Natchez the “Crepe Myrtle Capital of the World.” Learn when this year’s winners will be announced, see past winners, and learn more about this notable gardner and Southern lady.
For Visionary Leadership through the Natchez-Adams Community Alliance and More; Natchez Trails & Exhibit Panels, Benches on the Bluff, Bandstand Renovation, Bridge of Sighs, Crepe Myrtle Plantings, City of Natchez/F.O.R. Natchez Downtown Master Plan Project
Adams County Master Gardeners:
For Volunteer Training, Education, Planting, and Maintenance Projects to Keep Downtown Natchez Blooming Since 2001
For the North Commerce Street Arts District Tree Well Project, Founding Board Member of the Downtown Natchez Alliance, and Decades of Downtown Leadership Volunteerism
• Marcia McCullough of Garden Lovers of Natchez:
For the Downtown Natchez Haning Flowers Baskets Project
• Rita Tebbetts, Adams County Master Gardeners:
For Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale Treatment and Education
• Monroe Sago, Adams County Master Gardeners:
For Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale Treatment and Education
About Sallie Junkin Ballard
“NATCHEZ – THE CREPE MYRTLE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD”
Comments written by her daughter Donna Ballard Maselli for the first annual Natchez Crepe Myrtle Festival June 2019
Thank you so much for inquiring about my mother for whom the first annual Crepe Myrtle festival in Natchez is being named. Our family is so honored that she will be remembered in such a lovely way and we of course applaud the efforts of Lee Anne and Peter who have been tireless in seeing it to fruition.
My mother was born in 1926 and died in April 2017, passing away in her beloved White Wings which sits at the corner of High and Wall Streets in Natchez. In addition to the property possessing the second largest magnolia tree in Mississippi (so we are told) White Wings is surrounded by watermelon-colored and Natchez white crepe myrtles. We spent many summer Sundays scampering with bathing suits in tow down the crepe myrtle festooned promenade from White Wings to Stanton Hall. There we enjoyed a cool swim and fried chicken and biscuits by the pool. The heat was searing but the crepe myrtles literally gave you a reprieve from the humidity and sauna-like climate both with shade and moisture. I still have a friend whose favorite prank is to grab a limb from a crepe myrtle and shake its wet blooms all over me, damp petals falling like sticky pink snow. They are magical trees.
My mother spent her entire life in Natchez, and devoted every fiber of her being to that beautiful place. When she wasn’t volunteering for garden club activities (she was an avid gardener, and among her favorite trees was of course the crepe myrtle), church events, or driving one of her five children to school, swim practice, pole vault practice, ballet, baseball, piano lessons….well, you get the point, she was a tour guide, and among those she showed our majestic city were Lady Bird Johnson and Robert Mondavi. She could tell you not just about the magnificent architecture of the city, but also its rich and storied history. Until the very end of her life, she believed in Natchez and its possibilities….indeed, she supported the first openly gay, African American mayor of Natchez. According to my old friend Mimi Miller, who is the historian of historians of Natchez, my mother endured a freezing cold winter day to make a speech at the dedication of a World War I memorial which had been revised to include African American soldiers who had previously been omitted. She said, according to Mimi, we are a “united Natchez.” And that was that.
As a side note, my mother was a very serious business woman! At the age of 50, when she was close to becoming an “empty nester” she started the restaurant chain the Cock of the Walk at an old shack in Natchez Under the Hill facing the Mississippi River, which I can honestly say, served the best fried catfish in America. When she and my father and their partners sold the business to Morrison’s Cafeterias, they had 15 franchises all over the south, from Nashville to Pensacola. That was her fifties! In her sixties, she opened another restaurant in the same location called the Wharfmaster’s House, along with my brother John. My mother did not like to be idle.
Around the year 2000, she announced to me that she was determined to make “Natchez the crepe myrtle capital of the world.” Living in New Orleans, I was a little skeptical: we have our share of crepe myrtles! But my mother was not just talk. She was action. She raised money and oversaw the planting of hundreds of crepe myrtles all over the city. If a new through-way or road was built, she was calling the mayor’s office, “advising” him that it would have to be planted with crepe myrtles. My mother had a way of “advising” that did not really invite a response except “yes, Sallie.” City Hall and the Natchez Democrat were not places she made appointments. She showed up. And she got the meeting.
By the way, I also want to add when I say my mother was a gardener, I mean she did yard work. Hard stuff. Weeding, planting, mulching. Hauling, digging, transplanting. Nothing made her happier than a full day of planting in the heat in her yard, with a cold beer at the end. Well into her 80’s she was doing yard work that a 20 year old would faint doing. She could not be stopped. Many of the crepe myrtles that now are growing through the city were planted by my mother, and her trusty side-kick, Rosia Lee Williams.
Finally, I have to tell you that I believe my father deserves some credit for my mother’s obsession with the crepe myrtle. Crepe myrtles and new cars are not a good pair. One day, my father arrived to our house on South Commerce Street in a new soft green Thunderbird coupe with white leather interior. His dream car. He parked it in front of the house, and the next morning, it was covered in crepe myrtle blossoms from the previous evening’s pop-up thunderstorm. That was that for him. He said “we’re cutting down the crepe myrtles. They are going to ruin my car.” There was much gnashing of the teeth, but my mother knew her battles, and this was not one of them. Down went the trees. Ours was the only house on South Commerce Street without crepe myrtles. My mother, to be honest, was devastated. But she was a patient woman. Shortly after the trees were cut, a garage in the alley beside our house became available due to one of the tenants next door becoming too old to drive. Mother arranged for the Thunderbird to house in the garage. And after that, she was in front of the house, digging holes and planting….crepe myrtles. Maybe it takes losing something to know its worth! Those trees are now huge. Sallie would not be denied!
She was one for the ages. They broke the mold!