CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In April 2011, members of the Kanawha Garden Club surveyed the users of Davis Park to see what city dwellers and office workers want from the park.
Safety, smoking food, and flowers were among the answers.
The 90-year-old club, in conjunction with the Municipal Beautification Commission, has embarked on an ambitious three-phase upgrade to the beloved downtown Charleston green space. The organization enlisted landscape architect and urban planner Tim Forren, who has donated his time and talent to create a master plan that includes tree work, renewed benches, new planting and moving some existing bushes for the park that covers more than half a downtown block.
Recent visitors will notice that the city grounds crew, under the competent guidance of Public Grounds Department Director Junior Goodwin, has been busy removing some dead and dying trees and pruning the huge yew. The phase one plan of removing the lower branches of the yew isn't just for beauty; it's a safety feature, as well.
"In urban planning, the trend is 'see through for safety,'" Kanawha Garden Club member Kathy Muehlman explained. The lower limbs of the large yew have been cut out, leaving an interesting view of the twisted trunk and letting light into the formerly dark place. "One park user said they already feel much safer with the trimming of the yew."
One large group of the existing benches has been disassembled, power washed, stained a beautiful color (Sherwin Williams' "Acadia Blue"), and the hardware was replaced.
In phases two and three, four Bradford pear trees will be removed and replaced with less messy, more park-appropriate trees. Bradfords require a lot of pruning and are weak trees prone to wind and weather damage. Amelamchier canadensos (common name Service Berry), Acer rubrum 'Red Sunset' (maple), will be used. A redbud and dogwood also will be planted.
A collection of ferns (including maidenhair, cinnamon, royal and Christmas ferns) is planned in the shady spot under the trees.
Kanawha Garden Club has committed $50,000 toward the project, and hopes others will contribute, including area businesses bordering Davis Park. Members believe that any Davis Park improvements directly benefit the quality of Charleston.
They have already spent thousands of dollars to fund phase one -- including $7,913 paid to Sun Comfort Inc., for the refurbishing of the initial set of benches.
The group is applying for grants, and donations are welcome for the project. It will cost $22,000 just to refinish the rest of the benches -- the group expects the total project to cost $150,000, including in-kind work by city crews.
To donate, make checks payable to Kanawha Garden Club and mail to Elizabeth D. Keightley, 22 Brittany Woods Road, Charleston, WV 25314. The Kanawha Garden Club is a 501(c)3 organization.
Forren has ideas to make the garden an interactive, learning space. Instead of tags and markers on individual plants, he envisions a large drawing/map of the space with plant identification.
There will be many West Virginia native plants, including a variety of hellebores.
"In the survey, people said they want flowers," Muehlman said.
Club member Barbie McCabe said they will add color with "Super Elfin Samba Mix impatiens" in the flowerbeds.
"It's the little things that have made a difference," club member Kathy Becker said. She pointed to the trashcan liners that have been added to the black wrought-iron fixtures that were already in place in the park. The liners keep the trash bags in place, and provide a neater, cleaner look.
The club would love to see food vendors frequent the park in the future, a request from many of the park's current users.
Muehlman said she interviewed one woman in an office that overlooks the park who said she chose the job in Charleston over other offers partly because of the office's close proximity to Davis Park.
Smoking is another facet of the park that must be addressed. Smoking areas have been suggested by some park users. Club members are looking at all options.
Club members Becker, McCabe and Muehlman stressed that they want to preserve the heritage of the park while catering to current needs.