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Meet Gardens Team Member Janna Rhoden!

Meet Janna Rhoden, native Georgian and a dedicated member of the Historic Oakland Foundation Gardens Team. Janna has worked in the African American section of Oakland Cemetery for coming up on three years. 

What brought you to Oakland Cemetery? 

Before I came to Oakland I had a long career in retail management. I wanted something that was more fulfilling and decided to pursue a degree in horticultural science at Southern Crescent Tech. During this time a friend told me about a job opening at Oakland Cemetery for a gardening position. I filled out the application and much to my delight I was offered a job the very next day. It turns out that Oakland was the perfect place for me to land— a living classroom. I was learning valuable skills on the job, beyond what I learned in class, and it was applicable towards my degree. 

Tell us about your job at Oakland and what you like about it. 

At Oakland I am working for something bigger than myself especially as the caretaker for The Historic African American Grounds (3.2 acres directly west of the Greenhouse). Through research and working with the Director of Gardens, Abra Lee, I have learned about historically appropriate plants that would have been growing here in the early 1900’s.  

If there is a headstone with a date, this provides additional clues about plants to add to the garden. I have also had the benefit of learning from descendants of several families about plants that may have been grown in a certain time like blue mophead hydrangeas, a favorite of one family, and hollyhocks, a favorite of another.   

The garden area that I maintain is a story all on its own, a part of the rich history of Oakland. 

What are your greatest challenges? 

I don’t see obstacles, just opportunities. I look forward to expanding what we plant in this section and hope to soon include both blueberries and sunflowers in the landscape. It would be great to be able to plant one sunflower for every person buried in this section as a visual representation of the residents here.  I love sharing this part of the cemetery with visitors and greatly appreciate volunteers that help with garden maintenance on a regular basis. My favorite part of the job is working to make everything beautiful and to take care of my residents. This is where I find my peace.  

Next time you’re at Oakland, be sure to visit the African American Grounds and say hello to Janna!

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