June 3, 2008
Dougherty Co. - Few people know of what you could call a patriotic flower garden that grows in the divide of Highway 82West, also known as State Highway 520, and the Clark Avenue split east of Albany.
Between the two roads grows wildflowers, red, white and blue ones, barely seen from the road unless you know where to look. But one person certainly knows of their existence and wants them to look their best.
"You want things out here to look as good as it looks in your yard," says Rodney Humphries, an avid flower lover who works with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Roadside Enhancement Program.
He gets his heavy gloves out of a tool box, lifts a five-gallon white bucket from the bed of his yellow GDOT truck and walks down the bank to pull weeds that suck soil nutrients, especially water, from the blooming flowers.
"The most fun part is taking care of weeds," says Rodney jokingly. He wishes the flowers at the divide looked prettier. The dry weather already hinders their growth, but they still look attractive.
"For some reason it seems the weeds we don't want will grow without any rain and the flowers don't seem to catch up with them, "says Rodney.
He pulls each weed by hand, shakes as much dirt from the roots as he can before putting it into the white bucket for disposal. Soon, the bucket fills with the nutrient bandits. They can't use herbicides because of the ultra-close proximity of the flowers. The chemicals would kill the wildflowers, as well as the weeds.
Rodney, along with Carl Harris and Samuel Clark, makes sure 10 wildflower plots in 32 counties look the best they can, and occasionally they find a botanical treasure.
"We found two pitcher plants in Lanier County," says Rodney, obviously delighted with the find.
Occasionally, the crew finds snakes enjoying the pretty flowers.
"All of us run into snakes now and then. It's just something we have to watch out for, watch where we are going, "says Rodney.
Wildflower seed planting starts the first of November and runs through December. They find sites, remove vegetation, take soil samples, till, fertilize, gently seed the area using a machine that gently pushes the seeds into the soil and hope for rain.
"The plots range in size from one-tenth to one-acre in size." says Rodney.
At first, he wondered if motorists even noticed the flowers. Take the garden just north of Exit 64 where, on an average day, more than 49,000 cars pass by. People notice that one and the other gardens that line other roads.
"We get a lot of phone calls," says Rodney. "People see them in another county and want to know how they can get a plot put in their county."
Rodney tells them let their wishes be known.
"We're glad people are enjoying what we're doing," says Rodney, a blooming example of a roadside florist who wants as many people as he can to slow down and see the flowers.