For the 27 years she has lived in Yorkville Apartments, Samella Coley has worked to make her tiny front yard a thing of beauty. If the steady stream of comments she’s received over the years from neighbors and passers-by are any indication, she’s been wildly successful. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
May 12, 2018 10:01:54 PM
I was almost to the church that lost its steeple to the tornado, when the rooster started crowing. It sounded like he was a block away, somewhere on Third Avenue South. I was driving down College Street, windows down, headed to Mark Stokes' to have the pick-up's brakes checked.
While late sleepers in the neighborhood may beg to differ, there is something delightfully subversive about a crowing rooster in the center of town. I made the block, but the culprit was nowhere to be seen.
We have a good sprinkling of these barnyard Lotharios throughout Southside, though most do their crowing in "deep Southside," distant from Main Street.
Farther on, near the intersection with 21nd Street, there was Marie Nabors, another subversive, who has transformed the hell strip in front of her house at 2024 College into a lovely garden. Marie was pulling weeds.
Marie says she took up gardening as a girl growing up in Gholson, near DeKalb. Her husband, Lou, is pastor of The Church of the Eternal Word, located on 22nd Street in the building previously home to Club Hiediho. Marie, 69 and retired, was a janitor at New Hope School for 25 years.
"I would get off from work, cook supper and go down to the road," said Marie. "You can take me out of the country, but you can't take the country out of me."
About five or so years ago with the help of then Dispatch maintenance man Elbert Ellis, we transformed the blighted, trash-filled strip between our building and the parking lot of the downtown post office into a flower garden.
For the first few years we grew cannas. We've since -- now with the help of Eddie Johnson -- gone to sunflowers. We grow a range of annual varieties from seed and a perennial, a tall, columnar plant that waits until mid-October, long after the other sunflowers have gone, before bursting into bloom. There are also morning glories and Mexican petunias.
It is always rewarding when someone notices and says something about our efforts. Such was the case last week when Ruth Derry phoned about the sunflowers.
"Last fall, I just sat in my car and looked at them," she said.
Ruth asked how she might get some of the sunflowers for her yard. During the course of our conversation, she said she was a breast cancer survivor and currently suffering from lupus.
As it happens, the perennial sunflower (helianthus angustifolius, commonly known as swamp sunflowers or narrow-leaf sunflowers) spreads at approximately the same rate as kudzu. We have an abundant supply, and we deliver, I told her.
Ruth and her husband, John, raised three sons in the house they've lived in on Crowe Road in New Hope. The three of us were chatting in her living room when she mentioned Samella Coley.
"If it's any flower that's sick and needs to be revived, she's the one."
Ruth went on to describe her friend who lives nearby. "Come on, I'll take you over there."
To get to Samella's apartment you turn into Yorkville Apartments at the intersection of Yorkville and William Roberts roads. There on the right, the tangle of flowers; that's her.
"I mix it up. I put everything in the yard," Samella said, stating the obvious.
She's been here 27 years and has been stuffing flowers into her thumb print of a front yard for as long. She grew up on Nashville Ferry Road near the drag strip. Samella says she gets most of her plants from the clearance racks at Lowe's and Walmart.
"(When I'm out here in the garden) I forget about if I've eaten," she said. "I just like it out here."
Later, back at my computer, I look up Samella's address on Google Maps. I click on the button that changes the map to Google Street View. The images on the screen were made May 2013. I move the cursor along a row of nondescript, look-alike apartment units. Then there, in the middle of them, is a small Garden of Eden, an eruption of color in otherwise drab surroundings.
Do people say things to you about your flowers? I asked Samella.
"Constantly," she said. "Even young men stop. Everybody."
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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