When Sandra Hightower was told she needed to work on a community service project as part of her internship for the Tarrant County Master Gardeners, she decided she wanted to help her hometown.
Hightower, a member of the Mansfield Parks Facilities Development Corporation board, oversees the planning of the city’s parks, so she knew she wanted to work on a Mansfield project -- but there wasn’t one.
So Hightower and other Master Gardener interns from Mansfield started their own project -- cleaning up and maintaining Serenity Gardens at Julian Feild Park -- and they’re hoping that it becomes a permanent project for the county horticultural group.
“This park really has had nobody dedicated to it,” Hightower said. “Different departments have been watching over it, but not one department dedicated to it.”
The city’s parks department has taken care of the grass and the flower beds, while the environmental department has tried to watch over the gardens. In 2001, the Serenity Gardens were added to Julian Field Park, the city’s oldest park, which was opened in 1960. In 2008, the city’s environmental department added six Texas Smartscape demonstration gardens to show how many different plants could be grown in the area.
“For a couple of years we had been hosting Smartscape classes with the Master Gardeners,” said Howard Redfearn, the city’s environmental manager. “One class was always about plant selection. We wanted to let people know what plants would look like.”
The demonstration gardens include beds that range from a rose garden and perennial bed to an evergreen area and desert plants. Once the Master Gardener interns got permission from the city to work on the gardens, they dug in, weeding, pruning and mulching for three to four hours every week since February, and plan to continue until graduation next January. They have also constructed cinderblock compost bins to recycle plant material.
“One of the problems is they were put on water timers by people who didn’t understand Smartscape and they were being overwatered, so they didn’t come back as well,” Hightower said. “Right now, we have the water off. They haven’t been watered in two to three weeks.”
The principle of the Smartscape program is to use plants that require less water and little to no chemicals.
“That was the point in doing the gardens in the first place, that you can do without a lot of care,” said Steve Chaney, Tarrant County Extension Agent-Horticulture. “And knowing what can grow and be conservative with water use and impact on the environment.”
The Master Gardener interns, who are required to do 72 hours of community service to become Master Gardeners, are hoping the project becomes a long-term commitment for the group.
“I would like to see the city of Mansfield enjoy it and learn about native plants,” said intern Elaine Jones. “I hope people come out and enjoy it.”