First the concrete was jackhammered out. Next, a row of three red oaks was planted. Then, on Wednesday, under a strong sun, with temps in the mid-80°s, a diverse crew descended on the median strip where Cold Spring Road connects Long Ridge Road and High Ridge Road to complete a transformation to green.
Shovels in hand, the group – comprised of staff from the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, summer interns from the Mayor's Youth Summer Employment program, local high school and senior men's association volunteers, and staff from the City's Land Use Bureau – planted over 1,000 grasses and shrubs.
As the team planted clusters of of Pennisetum Alope, also known as "Little Bunny" for the seed pods that form in the fall and resemble bunnies' tails, Senior Associate Planner Erin McKenna arrived with water before there was a chance for a single blade to wilt.
Adjacent to the clusters of decorative grass, the design – that of City Land Use Inspector Tyler Theder who is also a landscape architect – called for what he described as grow-low fragrant sumac. "These shrubs turn bright red in the fall," said Theder. "It makes for an eye-catching contrast."
The unique collaboration was initiated by Land Use Bureau Chief Norman Cole. Bank of America partnered with the City and Bartlett Arboretum for the beautification project, which by noon on Wednesday began take shape.
Two of the workers were eager participants in the Mayor's Youth Summer Employment Project. "I earn $10 per hour for a minimum of 28 hours a week," beamed Tom Roberts, 18, who will attend Western New England University in the fall. "I did the program last summer too. I worked in the marketing department at First County Bank on Prospect Street. That was also a great environment."
Bartlett Arboretum and Garden Executive Director Peter Saverine wielded a shovel alongside Nick Anderson, who is employed by Bartlett through the Green Workforce Development Program. "We want to inspire young people to go into green careers," explained Saverine with a nod to Anderson. "The program introduces high school graduates interested in learning more about green industry. It's a transition between high school and college and a career. They receive both job site training and exposure to experts."
As the landscape plan took its final shape, one couldn't help wonder on whose shoulders would fall the task of every day watering. "The City will water until all the plantings are established," said McKenna. "Then the Bank of America will take over."
By early afternoon the lush plantings contrasted sharply with nearby concrete median strips, where desperate weeds reached through cracks toward the sun, as if begging the question: Can this median be transformed too?