Anniston botanical gardens project making progress
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Apr 21, 2012 | 4930 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ralph Martin and Hayes Jackson shovel gravel into a wheelbarrow. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Ralph Martin and Hayes Jackson shovel gravel into a wheelbarrow. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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The former Lenlock Community Center is being transformed by a group of about 20 to 30 volunteers in preparation for a fundraiser next week to support the growing Longleaf Botanical Gardens.

Ralph Martin, a master gardener who has volunteered at the museum complex for three years, was hard at work Friday planting flowers trees and bushes.

He said the front should be completely landscaped by Friday of next week — in time for an event featuring avid gardener and football coach Vince Dooley and his wife, Barbara.

Martin, who calls himself a full-time volunteer, said when the botanical gardens open to the public in late 2013, he expects them to rival those in Birmingham, Huntsville and Atlanta.

There is that much potential, he added.

Right now, it’s hard to see.

Much of the work has centered on the community center building, said Hayes Jackson, urban regional extension agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Painting, filling in the former public swimming pool and getting the building ready for visitors have been high on the list of priorities.

“The facility obviously has had to have some major, major facelifts done inside and outside,” said Margie Connor, marketing director for the museum complex board, which is building the gardens.

The board would like to eventually have the facility open for rental, Connor said.

The fundraiser will raise money to finish restoration projects on the building, she added.

And while the building’s been renovated, the museum board has been planning the gardens.

A greenhouse on an old soccer field is filled with plants that may eventually be planted in the gardens or on the museum grounds. Outside the greenhouse more plants rest in pots under trees or in the sunshine. Piles of dirt and mulch rise above the grass ready for use.

“We have a right plan and a right-now plan,” Jackson said. “The right-now is to get something there to fill the vacant spaces to have selections of things established.”

He’s working on a water garden, a dry shade garden and a desert garden, Jackson said.

He’s also excited about a garden of Southern bulbs, including surprise lilies, spider lilies and narcissus flowers which do well in the Southern environment.

“I’ve got a pretty good selection we can go ahead and plant,” Jackson said.

The idea is to plant them, let them grow and then as the garden develops, the plants can be moved or propagated.

The museum is also working under a professional plan from landscape design firm out of Birmingham, he said.

That plan, what Jackson calls the “right plan,” will be executed as funding becomes available.

Connor said the fundraiser on Friday, which the board hopes will raise $15,000, will get the botanical gardens back in people’s minds and generate more donations and good will from the community.

The board is excited to have Dooley, known as the former football coach for the University of Georgia and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and his wife speaking at a luncheon on Friday, Connor said.

Dooley, an Alabama native, is also a master gardener and has written a book about gardening. He even has a hydrangea that he developed named after him, Jackson said.

“People here had read the book and … thought that because of who he was people would want to hear what he had to say,” Connor said.

The luncheon will start at 11:30 a.m. After speaking, the couple will be available for autographs and pictures. Copies of Dooley’s book will be available for sale, Connor said.

Tickets for the luncheon are $100 for the general public or $50 for members, she said. Martin’s reward is the gardens he is helping to create, he said.

“The neat thing about this is,” Martin said as he put his shovel down and looked around, “you can see the results usually immediately.”

Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.
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