Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

it green

By Angie Long

Think of the amount of work that goes into maintaining a typical yard and home flower garden and keeping it green, healthy and blooming. Now imagine trying to provide &uot;curb appeal&uot; to an entire city.

It’s no easy matter keeping the Camellia City looking spruce, but that’s just what the City of Greenville Horticultural Department works hard at doing all year round.

Jennifer Stringer, city horticulturist, leads a crew of seven Monday through Friday: Arthur Savage, Gary Smith, Laura Braxton, Jeff Fletcher, Jimmy Cole, J.T. Thompson and Travis Godwin.

The horticultural department has grown in both its number of workers and variety of duties since Stringer first took the reins 11 years ago.

It started with a grant

&uot;When we first started, this was primarily a beautification program…downtown Greenville was involved in a revitalization project and grant monies were in place for lots of landscaping downtown. While that [landscaping] was contracted out, we were responsible for maintaining the new plantings,&uot; explains Stringer.

Grants continued to come in for the landscaping work in the downtown area, followed by tree grants and grants for park areas – &uot;basically it all snowballed.&uot;

New personnel were added over time to an initially one-man department. Today, the horticultural department oversees not only the downtown historic district, but the city’s parks, public buildings, ball fields and parks and Magnolia Cemetery as well.

&uot;The cemetery alone is 37 acres – it’s a big responsibility. It takes a lot of weed-eating, string-trimming and mowing to keep it in shape,&uot; explains Stringer.

More than downtown planting

Typically Stringer meets with her staff early each weekday morning and sends them out in several smaller crews to do what needs to be done for that particular day.

&uot;We have our landscaping crew, they do the pruning, hedging, planting and mulching; our parks crew handles the ball parks and fields; our mowing crew takes take of the big areas like the airport and city parks and the cemetery crew, of course, takes care of Magnolia."

Stringer, who graduated from Auburn with a degree in Forestry Resources, is aware many people wonder just why the city needs a horticultural department.

Busy holidays

&uot;I think a lot of people think we are only responsible for the downtown plantings, but it’s actually quite a bit more than that.&uot;

The Christmas season alone takes a great deal of effort and planning on the part of Stringer and her crew, she says.

&uot;Mid-October, we bring the holiday things down from storage and make sure they are all working right. We put the lights on the trees starting in early October, and try to have all the pole decorations up around town by late November. We can’t get new things every year – but we are always trying to build on what we have.&uot;

Stringer, who confesses she &uot;adores&uot; the Christmas season, tries to see the holiday theme carried out throughout the town. In addition to the refurbished pole decorations added out on the bypass area in recent years, Stringer wants to make sure visitors to Greenville feel a festive welcome each December.

&uot;We’ve added banners to each end of entrances into town – so hopefully, nobody gets left out. Christmas is definitely our biggest responsibility, and it can be a headache when things don’t work like they should – but I still love it,&uot; laughs Stringer.

She is also quick to point out the valuable assistance provided to her crew by Buildings and Grounds and the City of Greenville Fire Department each Christmas season.

&uot;Buildings and Grounds helps us with the electrical work each year and the fire department helps get the lights on some of the big trees

[in Confederate Park] at Christmas.&uot;

Stringer admits once Christmas and New Year’s are over and the decorations all come down, things get &uot;a little blah&uot;.

&uot;We had abandoned planting pansies in the downtown beds with all the work involved with Christmas – but I’m thinking about bringing them back next year. They are such pretty flowers.&uot;

Year round beautification

She is looking forward to putting together the bright springtime hanging baskets enjoyed downtown during the summer.

&uot;We usually put those out in early May to make sure the weather is ready for them.&uot;

Stringer’s crew also plants fall flowers each autumn and decorates the downtown area with smiling scarecrows.

And all around town, at public buildings such as the city’s senior centers, city hall, and the public library, the horticultural department is responsible for seasonal pots of flowers and ornamental grasses to beautify these areas year round.

And if a special event is scheduled at one of these public buildings or a public park, Stringer says she and her crew will do their best to make sure it’s in tip-top shape.

'I love the outdoors'

Stringer is an outdoors girl who says she has what just might be &uot;the perfect job.&uot;

&uot;I love being outside, and I love history – that’s why I especially love working in the downtown area, it’s an interesting and unique place.

&uot; I think people forget what it looked like before all the revitalization work was done. I love looking at ‘before’ photos and comparing them to what we have going on now – it’s amazing!&uot;

In fact, being able to see the difference she and her crew make is the most satisfying aspect of her job, says Stringer.

&uot;I am really lucky to have a great crew in place right now who care about getting the job done right. It’s really great to be able to stand back and look at what we’ve done and take pride in it, you know?&uot;

Stringer is proud to note the city has just been designated an official Tree City, U.S.A. for the 16th year in a row.

And, in the near future, you will be able to watch some of Stringer’s able workers planting yet more trees along the interstate frontage road.

&uot;A grant came in for trees from Alabama Power, so yes, we’ll be planting again very, very soon,&uot; Greenville’s ever-enthusiastic horticulturist says with a smile.