Kathy and Jim King (far right) gather with some of the friends who landscaped their home while they were out of town. Martha Hannah (from left) chats with the Kings' daughter Jane, while Beth Loflin and Sallye Clark recall the details of the project.
The Kings purchased a stained-glass window years ago to commemorate a wedding anniversary. They moved it to their current house, where a newly planted window box complements it.
Landscape architect Beth Loflin included espaliered crabapples as a divider between the patio gardens and driveway.
Jim and Kathy King relax on the front porch of the 100-year-old home they purchased last year. Friends recently surprised them by landscaping their home, a project Kathy's illness had put on hold.
The flagstone patio includes seating areas where the Kings can enjoy bright morning sun or cool evening shade.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The idea struck Sallye Clark when dropped her dear friend Kathy King off at her house and King lamented the landscaping chores she'd neglected during a serious, enervating illness.
Although she enjoyed working in the yard, King didn't have the stamina to landscape the house she and her husband, Jim, had purchased the previous year on a quiet South Hills street.
"I suggested we get a team together. It'll be like back in the day when we're all young and poor and got together and worked on a project. Kathy didn't want to put people out," said Clark, who first met Kathy at church about 25 years ago.
An upcoming vacation for the Kings provided the tenacious Clark with a narrow window of opportunity. She called friends, who called friends, including landscape architect Beth Loflin, and developed an ambitious action plan within a week.
When the Kings left the following week, the heavy equipment arrived along with crews of volunteers wielding shovels and rakes. As preparation for the garden installation, they jackhammered and removed a sidewalk, dug out a water well and excavated a courtyard area in preparation for a flagstone patio. Trucks arrived with loads of trees, shrubs, plants and mulch -- lots of mulch.
Clark had consulted Jim King and the Kings' daughter Jane about the project before they left for their trip, but Kathy had no idea about the transformation that was happening in her absence.
"Once Sallye gets an idea, you better just get out of the way. I was just taking orders at this point," said Jim, who made whatever surreptitious preparations he could before they left.
The Kings had consulted with Loflin about a landscape plan in the past. She'd sketched some ideas, so she already had a good idea of what landscape concepts they liked. "We were going to go forward with the plan at some point, but it probably wouldn't have done it all ourselves for three or four years. This came together in a couple of weeks," said Jim King.
When the Kings returned home April 8, the extent of grounds' metamorphosis surprised Jim -- but it stunned Kathy, who was initially speechless, then tearful as she walked the property and took in the makeover.
"I was so totally overwhelmed as we drove up. It's not so much the look, which was wonderful, but the idea that so many people came together and did this," Kathy said.
Martha Hannah, another longtime friend who helped Clark marshal volunteers, said many more people wanted to help but were out of town for spring break. She thought they might have made financial contributions.
Kathy confirmed that people had contributed, but they don't know who made donations. All they know is that when Jim went to Green's Feed & Seed to settle the bill for materials, he was told that the account had a balance of zero.
At first, the unassuming Kathy felt uncomfortable that so many people, some of whom she didn't even know, had given so much for the impressive project. Hannah helped her gain perspective.
"I have a hard time accepting help. Then Martha told me that they had so much fun doing this. She told me that it was as much a blessing to them as it was to me," Kathy said. "I learned that if I don't accept help from others, it's an ego issue."
Volunteers poured in from the ranks of people who knew the Kings through Christ Church United Methodist, tennis and WVU tailgating parties. Colleagues joined in. She is a nurse anesthetist at Cabell Huntington Hospital, and he is an architect with the Higher Education Policy Commission.
Neither Hannah nor Clark was surprised at the enthusiastic response.
"To me, it's a testament to the type of people Jim and Kathy are," Hannah said.
In addition to friends who provided labor, George Washington High School instructor Col. Monty Warner brought several JROTC students to lend a hand. The students toiled in cold, rainy weather to break up the sidewalk and cut down existing trees and undergrowth. Clark, who previously taught English at GW, recruited Warner's assistance for the project.
The students and volunteers tossed discarded materials into a bin loaned to the site by a friend who owns a waste management company.
In all, about 40 people worked on the project. Hannah, Loflin and Clark said they enjoyed the project so much, many people told them they didn't want it to end.
"Everyone was smiling and laughing. It brought people together who had no other common thread," said Loflin. Hannah added that she had the chance to meet Kathy's friends she'd never met, but often heard her friend speak about.
Freely given labor and donated materials, equipment and services brought the cost of the renovation to about a fifth of its actual value, Loflin said.
Hannah offered some bricks leftover from an addition to her home for the project, and Loflin worked them into seating areas along the circular courtyard. Gardening friends added another personal touch.
"Some people divided plants from their own yards. This is really a garden of love," Hannah said.
Star magnolia, dwarf nectarine and espaliered crabapple trees join low-care perennials and planters of brightly colored annuals to rim the patio's peaceful seating area. Potted herbs are within easy reach to clip for culinary use. The area is softly lighted for evening relaxation.
"The patio is my favorite part of the project," Kathy said. The Kings also enjoy sitting on their front porch. Their former neighbor Jane Hammett sorted through her extensive collection of fabrics and picked colorful fabrics she used to re-cover the cushions.
Newly planted and mulched beds hug the house's foundation, while a stand-alone vegetable and fruit garden stands in the back yard, already planted with blueberry bushes and a peach tree. This garden will provide physical sustenance to bolster the sensory pleasure offered in the front yard.
"I think all of us hope that Kathy finds comfort, joy and relaxation as she undergoes further treatment," Clark said. "Kathy is so giving and kind. I think this says that there are many more good people than bad in the world when they come together for something like this."
Reach Julie Robinson at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.