Much has been said of heroes in the past year. Americans across the county have embraced their spirit and praised their work. Undoubtedly, the efforts of some people remain unsung. Elaine Fellenstein is one such person. Single-handedly, she has beautified the gardens at the United Way of Douglas County, 2518 Ridge Court.
Fellenstein became aware of the garden's need when her husband did some computer work for United Way after the agency relocated five years ago. Since then, she has been its volunteer part-time gardener.
"I've always done it the last five years," she said.
When I met with Fellenstein, a sun visor shaded her flushed face and a few smudges of soil dotted her clothes. This good soul volunteers two to four hours a week. She is involved in planting, weeding, watering and generally tending three garden areas at the site.
The garden at the front entrance, a great spring garden, is filled with red peonies, yellow coreopsis, red salvia and white irises. Columbine, purple coneflowers and lamb's ears also grow in this flower bed that is surrounded by aging railroad ties.
A small garden, alive with ornamental grasses and red salvia, at the back entrance to the building will expand if Fellenstein has her way.
"It's a quiet little place," she noted.
She figures the pea gravel bed lends itself to an Oriental style garden.
The third one, a courtyard garden, is completely encased by the building. This serene oasis is a favorite of employees of the agency.
"People will come out for their meetings and sit on blankets or chairs," Fellenstein said. "It's always fun to come out when it's cool outside."
The courtyard garden is filled with plants, some new, donated by Fellenstein or Sunrise Garden Center, and some old, in memory of former residents of the nursing home that had occupied the building years ago.
A plaque notes the beautiful yellow peace rosebush is in memory of Hattie Benefiel. Another marker identifies Douglas Mack as the honoree of the rose, Jazzy. Boxwood shrubs trim the perimeter, while liriope, hostas and ajuga find their place in this cozy space.
"The courtyard is a microclimate," Fellenstein said. "Things grow well in here that don't do as well in my own garden."
Bright mums color the landscape now.
"I figured it was time for something cheerful," said Fellenstein, who plans to reseed the grassy area in the next few weeks.
Fellenstein is mindful about watering the gardens. A soaker hose is used at the front garden, the others are watered by hand.
"I hate to run up their water bill too much," she noted. "I water things that really need it, the roses and flowers in pots. And on a hot summer like this one, I'll water off and on all the plants."
Fellenstein is careful on her plant selection, too.
"I have to do really drought tolerant plants," she admitted. "They have to thrive on neglect. I can't guarantee anything after this summer."
Though she has a full-time job with Hallmark, Fellenstein still manages to accumulate enough volunteer hours at the garden to qualify for Hallmark's VIP program, which means a $200 donation to the United Way.
So, what motivates this untiring volunteer?
"I love to garden," she said. "Doing a public space is really rewarding. I love walking out the doors and overhearing people comment on the garden. That's my reward. The folks here work hard and help the community. I like to give a space (for them) to relax, to take breaks, eat lunch and get some fresh air."
Jo Bryant, director of United Way, is thrilled with the work Fellenstein has done.
"I am so delighted," she said. "It's an enormous gift what Elaine has given us. There is no way we could afford these lovely plantings and surroundings. The people working here particularly enjoy the inner courtyard. They are under a lot of stress, busy or with people who are in crisis. So, to step out (into the garden) is a great gift."
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.