CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The idea struck Sallye Clark when dropped her dear friend Kathy King off at her house and King lamented the landscaping chores she'd neglected during a serious, enervating illness.
Although she enjoyed working in the yard, King didn't have the stamina to landscape the house she and her husband, Jim, had purchased the previous year on a quiet South Hills street.
"I suggested we get a team together. It'll be like back in the day when we're all young and poor and got together and worked on a project. Kathy didn't want to put people out," said Clark, who first met Kathy at church about 25 years ago.
An upcoming vacation for the Kings provided the tenacious Clark with a narrow window of opportunity. She called friends, who called friends, including landscape architect Beth Loflin, and developed an ambitious action plan within a week.
When the Kings left the following week, the heavy equipment arrived along with crews of volunteers wielding shovels and rakes. As preparation for the garden installation, they jackhammered and removed a sidewalk, dug out a water well and excavated a courtyard area in preparation for a flagstone patio. Trucks arrived with loads of trees, shrubs, plants and mulch -- lots of mulch.
Clark had consulted Jim King and the Kings' daughter Jane about the project before they left for their trip, but Kathy had no idea about the transformation that was happening in her absence.
"Once Sallye gets an idea, you better just get out of the way. I was just taking orders at this point," said Jim, who made whatever surreptitious preparations he could before they left.
The Kings had consulted with Loflin about a landscape plan in the past. She'd sketched some ideas, so she already had a good idea of what landscape concepts they liked. "We were going to go forward with the plan at some point, but it probably wouldn't have done it all ourselves for three or four years. This came together in a couple of weeks," said Jim King.
When the Kings returned home April 8, the extent of grounds' metamorphosis surprised Jim -- but it stunned Kathy, who was initially speechless, then tearful as she walked the property and took in the makeover.
"I was so totally overwhelmed as we drove up. It's not so much the look, which was wonderful, but the idea that so many people came together and did this," Kathy said.
Martha Hannah, another longtime friend who helped Clark marshal volunteers, said many more people wanted to help but were out of town for spring break. She thought they might have made financial contributions.
Kathy confirmed that people had contributed, but they don't know who made donations. All they know is that when Jim went to Green's Feed & Seed to settle the bill for materials, he was told that the account had a balance of zero.
At first, the unassuming Kathy felt uncomfortable that so many people, some of whom she didn't even know, had given so much for the impressive project. Hannah helped her gain perspective.
"I have a hard time accepting help. Then Martha told me that they had so much fun doing this. She told me that it was as much a blessing to them as it was to me," Kathy said. "I learned that if I don't accept help from others, it's an ego issue."