Renters sink thousands into parking lot oasis

Renters sink thousands into parking lot oasis

June 9th, 2012 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

A plaque that reads "She Who Plants a Garden Plants Happiness" and a lantern in the garden of Raymond Taft outside of his apartment at Trails of Signal Mountain.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A collaboration between two apartment dwellers at The Trails of Signal Mountains to build themselves a garden has resulted in a lush, verdant parking-lot oasis on the end of their unit's quiet cul-de-sac.

The landscaped area serves as a buffer between the exterior wall of the building and the asphalt curbing, has improved the entrance to the apartment and offers an inviting sitting area where there was none before.

In all, more than $4,000 has been poured into its creation, with nothing expected in return except the compliments of their neighbors.

"When I moved here, it was a dirt pit full of last-ditch-effort shrubs and a conglomeration of pots," said Raymond Taft. He and wife Evelyn moved to Chattanooga from Massachusetts in August 2010.

Taft asked his neighbor, Donna Langsam, if she would mind if he tried some improvements. He learned she had longed for a garden that she could enjoy evenings after work.

So they began with a 6-feet-deep, 50-feet-wide strip of land outside the Tafts' windows adjacent to the walkway. She provided the majority of the funds; he provided all the physical labor.

The pair visited area nurseries to pick plants. She knew what she liked; he could visualize how they should be laid out - layered from the tallest plants in the back to the ivy and ground covers in front.

Taft cleared the areas of the dead shrubs and dug out the hard clay, replacing it with potting soil.

"We hauled in tons of Miracle-Gro potting soil," he said. "The only thing we kept was the monkey grass."

Every day he worked on it, planting hostas, blooming shrubs such as Knock Out Roses, installing plant stands holding pots of colorful blossoms.

At one point, he rocked a 4-foot stump loose from the nearby woods, dragged it up the hill to the bed, dug a hole and planted it as a prop for garden art.

When the landscape was complete, Taft hauled in 50 bags of gravel to spread across the bed.

Since the area receives little sun, solar lights were not an option. So Taft wired electricity to mini Christmas lights among the ivy, bulbs illuminating two lanterns and two spotlights - and added their expense to his utility bill.

"He created something tropical where you thought nothing would be able to grow because it doesn't get enough sun," said Johnnie McElvain, a resident of the complex.

Next, the pair turned their attention to the opposite side of the walkway where a wooded lot sloped away from the apartments. Rain had severely eroded the hillside away from the walkway.

Again, the old dirt was removed from an area 25 feet long and replaced with potting soil. Taft hauled in 30 bags of gravel to fill in a gully and turn it into a stable walkway. The pair had skids of mountain stone and river rock delivered, from which Taft built two retaining walls. The longest is 10 feet long and 3 feet wide.

More ferns, hostas and a burbling fountain were added.

"It took a lot of Aleve," Taft said.

"And a lot of gin-and-tonics," Langsam added.

The pair said as their project grew, neighbors began asking about the work.

"This was the common icebreaker in getting people to start talking and to meeting our neighbors," said Taft. Langsam said now their new friends join them to socialize at the spot during the evenings.

Last fall, Taft added a fire pit. Langsam said they'd gather round and make s'mores.

And they aren't done yet. The pair said they'd like to extend the bed the length of the building complex if possible.

"Just because you rent, doesn't mean you can't have something like this," Taft said.