By Kathleen Robinson
As a Master Gardner, volunteer and friend, I was called to a meeting to discuss landscaping for the new IHN (Interfaith Hospitality Network) day center for homeless families. The center is located behind the old farmers’ market at 1184 Baldwin Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a very hot afternoon in June that Mary Ellen Galloway, Director of IHN, and I met. My first question was how much money is budgeted for this project? The answer was “none.” That’s when I knew this would be a challenge.
Before I could get started, I first had to be patient and wait for the building to be completed to know where in that sea of concrete there would be anything to landscape. It wasn’t until August 2009 that the building was finished enough to begin. I gathered my thoughts and possible resources and hit the pavement running.
From some unknown source, even before I got started, top soil and sod were placed around the building, and the grass was generously cut and watered by the city of Chattanooga. In September I took soil samples to be tested for its nutrients and content needed for proper planting. After receiving the results from Nashville, I called our Urban Forester, Gene Hyde, for his input on tree selections for some much needed shade. I also called Tom Stebbins, UT/TSU Extension Agent and Master Gardener of Hamilton County Program Supervisor, to assure that it would be an approved project.
Knowing I would have to solicit for plants and materials, I was determined to be specific in what I asked for, in order to prevent being given plants that would “cook” in the sun (which is always abundant at the site). A friend told me, “Kathleen, you can’t be picky. You’re going to have to make do with what you’re given.” She was right. So, I changed my strategy.
My next step was to take pictures of the site and create an information board about the day center. That way people would understand the mission of the agency and urgency of the plants. At that point I began requesting supplies, which I dreaded. However, much to my surprise, even in this sluggish economy people were willing to give. The generosity was abundant.
When I first talked to Wade Anderson of Wade Anderson Landscaping, he agreed to donate his men and equipment for all the planting. Next, Signal Nursery called me after I left my information board and pictures. They were willing to donate many beautiful plants as was The Barn Nursery and other private donors. I then had enough plants and trees to complete the project and the landscaping job was finished – or so I thought. To my surprise, another blessing came our way when Charles Swingle, owner of Swingle Landscape and Irrigation, heard about the project and was impressed with the agency’s mission. He graciously donated a complete drip system to keep the plants properly watered. Wow! God had answered my prayers for IHN above and beyond my expectations. The total amount of time and resources donated was estimated at seven thousand dollars.
Anyone who has enjoyed gardening or the outdoors understands the spiritual, soothing affects that plants can have on you. Landscaping has a way of softening our hearts and relieving stress. We saw this once again in the faces of the children when they got off their school bus at IHN. We were just finishing the front of the building when the children jumped off the bus, stopped and shouted, “Oh, it’s so pretty!” The children immediately offered to help, which brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded why I love gardening and how gardening has the power to bring joy to anyone, even homeless families in such volatile times. Thank you, IHN. It was an honor to do this project and give back a little to an agency that gives so much too so many.