Group effort blooms between buildings

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A little work here, a helping hand there, a bushel of flowers on the side and voilà – a local apartment complex is boasting a dizzying array of colors today following a grassroots gardening effort.

Nestled within the Chateau Apartments off Houston Street, a collection of flowerbeds erupt with life thanks to some key caretakers and the contributions of multiple residents.

More and more people are adding their personal touch, resident Lavada Thomas says, signs of gratitude for work her neighbor, Jerry Wittie, kicked off last fall. Thomas was eager to tell the story of the revitalized greenery last month, praising the residents’ handiwork a few weeks ahead of National Garden Week, which began Monday.

Initially, “A lady moved away and left a birdbath and a bench,” she said. “I looked at it for a year until I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

Wittie was at a similar impasse: looking out over the public areas of the apartment complex last fall, he felt the buildings needed a bright spot.

“When I moved there three years ago it was just gravel and grass,” he added. “I got tired of looking at that, so I started planting rose bushes.”

A banana tree and some other small plants followed. In time, the garden project took on a life of its own as various members of the apartment community added their personal touches around Wittie’s plantings.

“Occasionally someone would want to help – they started pulling weeds, moving pots,” Thomas said. “Then all the little yard art came from this one and that one and the other. Two pots came all the way from Indiana.”

Between a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, ferns, grasses and other plants, the various beds boast a colorful menagerie of inanimate elements as well – a pink flamingo and a mosaic owl, a stone rabbit and a steel blossom, frogs, chickens, seahorses and more. One resident’s addition of an American flag adds a special touch of red, white and blue.

“They just come along and want to do something,” Thomas said, coming together as an apartment community, spreading the labor.

It’s another pleasant aspect to the apartments, Wittie said, a nice walk for residents as they head from their doors to the parking lot.

“I don’t have that much time in it,” he said, mainly just watering the plants in the afternoon and tending them a little more when necessary. With a bit of shared effort, “It makes it look a lot better over there.

“All of the neighbors are always bragging on how it all looks.”

Sponsored by the National Garden Clubs Inc., this week’s commemoration encourages people across the country to step into the sunlight and exercise their green thumb.

The residents of the Chateau Apartments have a head start on National Garden Week’s June 3-9 activities. From GardenClub.org, activities to consider include:

- Planning an educational program and/or workshop at the local library, public garden or garden center.

- Sponsoring a hands-on “How Do You Select Flowers/Shrubs for Your Garden” workshop at an area nursery.

- Planning a garden tour. This is a great time to share knowledge of growing, while sharing ideas.

- Beautifying a manageable blighted area or enhancing an existing garden.

- Planning an activity with a youth group or school students.

- Placing a plant or flower arrangement at public facilities, along with a National Garden Week poster.

Kilgore Council of Garden Clubs is marking the week with an educational campaign at Kilgore Public Library.

“We’re making plant stakes that name the plants, trees and shrubs at the library,” Civic Garden Club’s Kim Gore said. “We’ll put them in front of each plant. Anybody that visits the library, when they walk down that sidewalk they can identify plants.”

Share National Garden Week project photos with the News Herald via news1@kilgorenewsherald.com.

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