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The Gardens of South Public Grounds

The gardens of South Public Grounds suffered badly after the 2008 tornado and we are excited to be starting work to restore the area to a beautiful and welcoming space. This area was heavily shaded before the tornado.  Unfortunately, the oak that shaded it so gracefully succumbed to the injuries received during the storm and from an earlier lightening strike, and it ultimately had to be removed. The plantings that had skirted the tree were now out in the full sun and seemingly illogically placed.
These conditions were recognized in our Landscape Master Plan which called for a “more organized” design. This plan was prepared for us by Robert & Co. and developed by the late Jim Cothran, FASLA, and Oakland board member Andrew Kohr, ASLA.
“The South Public Grounds are laid out in a more formal, rectilinear fashion. The large central oak tree that is located in the middle of the site has been damaged by lightening and soon will be removed. The entrance is bordered by box and iris with a mix of tea olive, camellias, quince, azaleas, and phlox throughout the space. Trees are scattered through the space and serve as a partial screen to Memorial Drive. Oaks, hydrangeas, and ivy form a more wooded appearance on this southern end. There is already one tree stump in the space with random plantings around each grave site creating a disjointed appearance. Faux wood benches have been placed in the space along the central axes. Portions of the space have filled out nicely, whereas other parts are in need of maintenance and more organized plant material.”
The restoration work in that portion of Phase III is well under way, and the small amount of stonework needed in South Public was done first. Work on the brick walkway adjacent to South Public Grounds has begun and that allows for water lines and Murdock hydrants to be installed. With this work complete we could begin replanting the area this spring if funding could be obtained.
An unexpected call from Creative Loafing is making it possible. They invited us to participate in their Do Good campaign being held in Atlanta for the first time. They offered for the Do Good campaign to help raise money to fund the project and then the Home Depot Foundation would match every dollar raised up to $2500. We are currently working to raise the $2500 by the Saturday, April 27 deadline and your assistance would be appreciated. Details can be found at here.  Your money will go twice as far and allow us to complete the replanting of the area and make it available to everyone immediately.
The work is being done largely by our gardens volunteers during our Second Saturday program, where volunteers with all levels of gardening skill come together with experienced leaders to improve our gardens. This past week 80 or so volunteers worked all morning preparing beds, pulling weeds and planting. The difference is amazing and will continue to improve over the next two months. Our goal is to have the project completed by mid-June so the May and June Second Saturdays will also focus on this area and everyone is welcome to participate.
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As we began considering the area it became clear that the original design was still good, but it needed refinement. First, the loss of the oak changed the light conditions radically and made the center plantings that had surrounded it seem out of place. This past winter we had removed these plants and relocated them to other, more culturally appropriate, areas of the grounds. The area seemed much more open once these plants were removed. This had been one of the goals discussed for this area during the development of the Landscape Master Plan, but it was hard to envision so long as the tree was there.
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The wooded area at the south end, along Memorial Drive, was in terrible condition. Many of the plants were half dead, ivy had invaded and weeds were rampant. The goal had originally been to provide a partial buffer between the area and the busy 20th century commercial area, but it had become an eyesore instead. The ivy, weeds and dead plants were removed and a few new plants were added. Small plants of  Juniperus virginiana, Eastern redcedar, were rescued from elsewhere on the grounds where our birds had deposited them and added to provide some evergreen screening. In the past we had collected seed from the Aesculus pavia, our native red buckeye, that were already growing in South Public. These buckeyes were grown in our old greenhouse area, covered with hardware cloth to keep them safe from hungry squirrels. Those seedlings were added along the front edge and will grow into small trees that will provide beautiful flowers in spring.
We also needed to address how people moved through the space. Brick steps lead up to it from the road and three brick walkways lead into it from the west. In addition, well worn foot paths through the azalea border have been developed by visitors who find that the walkways do not continue through to the east. An existing hedge along the western edge needed to be replanted with smaller and more appropriate plants. A large portion of this hedge had been planted with Chaenomelea speciosa, flowering quince, which was lovely but had relished the additional sun and had overgrown the brick walkway with thorny branches. This will be replced with Ilex vomitoria, dwarf Yaupon holly, a native holly which will continue the existing hedge near the road. There will be three entryways in the hedge, placed as close to the brick walkways as possible without disturbing existing graves. It is unlikely that we could successfully stop the foot traffic across and through the azaleas on the eastern side, so two clear paths will be incorporated within the border.
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It was also important that the plan reflect the rectilinear form that would have been in fashion when it was founded. An undulating border of various azaleas flowed along the eastern edge and this planting needed a stronger line, as did the plantings on either side of the front steps. This border will be extended and straightened to be more linear and to allow room to include other heirloom shrubs that will extend the beauty throughout much of the year. Quince will start the year, followed by viburnum, azaleas, wiegelia and other spring blooming shrubs that lead into the roses, altheas and hydrangeas of summer, all ending with the fruits of viburnum and beautyberry. Daffodils, iris, lilies and mums will be at their feet. Boxwoods were added at the top of the steps and the border will turn to flank the steps. The modern daffodils were dug after they bloomed and replanted in a more modern portion of the grounds. Heirloom daffodils that are appropriate to the period will replace them. Finally, a carpet of green grass throughout the center section will replace the current eroded dirt.
We hope that this work will produce an appropriate and inviting area that will be beautiful throughout the year. We want it to welcome all, whether a nearby family looking to enjoy a spring day with their toddler or a family gathering to share memories of a recently departed matriarch.

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