The showers have arrived. A spring-soaked mist rests in the air and alluring green sprouts from soft terrain, blandishing brilliant flowerets from the comfort of delicate husks and setting the season ablaze with color so radiant, eyes can’t help but feast.
We are a fortunate lot to live in an area where we needn’t go far to experience beauty in its most organic design. It’s no secret that the City of Rome takes an abundance of pride in the preservation and beautification of our natural and historical landscape.
This spring, a floricultural renovation has been installed in the heart of downtown Rome, embracing our beloved Clocktower, paying homage to historic Bailey Park, shrouding Neely Hill in a horticultural bounty of appreciation.
This springtide tribute spawned from a partnership between the City of Rome, Keep Rome-Floyd Beautiful (KRFB) and the horticulture department at Georgia Northwestern Technical College that began this time last year.
On the search for someone to beautify the grounds at Clocktower Hill, KRFB Director Mary Hardin Thornton reached out to her friend Shannen Ferry, director of horticulture at GNTC, who had just the right person in mind, 29-year-old horticulture student Alice Towe.
On April 30, the renovation began and a landscape design, planned and created by Towe, was set into the soil of Clocktower Hill with the helping hands of her fellow students, friends, family and volunteers.
Towe approached this project armed not only with knowledge and experience, but with a whole lot of heart. After all, this is not just any space. She knows as well as we that Clocktower Hill is a largely venerated, highly cherished landmark for Romans – portrayed with admiration in paintings, on postcards and even in pendants of locally-crafted jewelry.
“I took hundreds of pictures and tried to figure out what I wanted there, what kind of design needed to be there for the Clocktower,” smiles Towe, whose design was inspired by history and community. “I was thinking of the Clocktower and its historic meaning. It was built right after the Civil War, and we really needed water works in this town. It was even a political issue for a while because it was so expensive, but I think it’s a symbol of hope for the city.”
For Towe and Romans alike, the structure on the hill stands today as a beacon of ambition and progression, reminding our fair city that even in turbulent times, and slight opposition, we can and will prevail in the name of prosperity. What better way to honor such a symbol than to allure wide eyes and open hearts to engage in its rich history and lustrous exhibition.
Towe wants visitors of Clocktower Hill to really absorb and become interested in the beauty and function of the grounds, which is why she planned her landscape design with the community in mind.
She wanted something educational, something to liven the senses. So the grounds now include an educational/edible garden that Towe nicknames a “tea garden” for the number of herbs it encompasses – catnip, lemon balm, spearmint, feverfew and hyssop, to name a few.
“I call it educational, too, because we have plaques along with the different plants that show what the plant is and how you can use it,” she explains. “I also wanted to show that Rome is in the know about some of the plants that are new to the horticulture industry, so I brought in newer plants that people haven’t seen before.”
In the crisp air of our coming winter, and on to early spring, a bundled visit to the Clocktower will reveal the creamy-white clustered blooms of the exceptional, ‘Snow Fever’ Lenten rose, one of the new plants in the renovation. The wide oval leaves, dark green and speckled white (variegated), create a bit of a frosted look and will remain an optic contrast in the garden year round.
“You don’t see a lot of Lenten roses with variegated leaves,” Towe says. “It’s really beautiful and really striking.”
Pulling into the parking lot at Bailey Park, Towe has arranged for four seasons of color to greet visitors, including red twig dogwoods, which offer white spring blossoms, bright green leaves in summer and fire-red spindles in winter. In addition, Clocktower Hill now holds in its earthen grasp the light, feathery foliage of ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia, a uniquely textured evergreen, showcasing sprigs of vibrant yellow flowers atop the deep green leaves.
Towe’s original landscape design for Rome’s revered landmark on the hill was drawn entirely by hand.
“This includes going out and measuring the beds and researching which plants to go where based on sun and water requirements,” she explains. “And this was a full semester before I ever took landscape design. I read the textbook and taught myself.”
Hard work, passion and respect have permeated every phase of this project; this partnership.
“Alice has been a great person to work with and has taken a lot of responsibility,” Thornton says. “She goes up there and weeds in her spare time and really seems to care about this as a project and as a career path.”
Brick by brick, Towe, the 2015 GNTC GOAL Award winner, is building on that path. She has presented her landscape renovation for Clocktower Hill, along with its purpose and its impact, to the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG). Now she awaits word from the TCSG on whether or not her proposal, “Green Thumbs Re-gain Grounds at Historic Heart of Rome,” will be included in the 2015 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Atlanta this November.
With the glory of graduation this month comes the time for Towe’s GNTC horticulture counterparts to inherit the maintenance of her vision. Of course, she will, no doubt, be seen on the hill from time to time, pulling weeds and visiting plants. It is with the help of these counterparts that steps were installed last fall, where a worn muddy path once traveled up the south side of the hill. The steps offer accessibility and a less-harmful alternative to tearing grass and wearing terrain.
Inching our way through the foliage of the GNTC greenhouse, Towe’s expertise and enthusiasm is evident in her informative words and her nurturing aura with the plants. Delicately rubbing the leaves, transferring scents to the fingertips, she engulfs the senses and translates the value of each herb and plant, explaining their healing characteristics, edible options and daily uses. It seems that the landscape of our lovely landmark is in good hands alongside her green thumb.
Before the suns of a blazing summer send you sprinting to the shores of the nearest body of water, take a little time to stroll along the brick-inlaid pathways encircling this century-old stronghold of hope. Do a little daytime plaque reading in the educational garden; rub the leaves and awaken the senses. Share a picnic lunch with the lustrous green and cloud gaze with the roses, canna lilies and coreopsis. Pay a little homage to the alabaster memorial of Bailey Park, where 19th century public school buildings once stood. Soak in the skyline of a city where pride, preservation, and progression reign, and take a moment to appreciate it all. VVV