MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, GA -- When base patrons make a trip to the Naval Dental Clinic, some may think of drills, fluoride, the agony of keeping their mouths open for a long time and flowers. Flowers?
An incoming patient may be nervous about having their teeth worked on, but the clinic's entrance features a garden overflowing with hues of red, white, purple, lime-green, and yellow that can be calming. The sweet smell of butterfly bushes and humming bird plants are some of the fragrances from the small but flourishing garden.
Three years ago Linn McDonald, dental hygienist here, and Jennie Dalton, dental clinic receptionist, grew tired of the drab shrubbery in front of the building.
After removing grass and bushes and digging up the 5-foot space between the building and the sidewalk, the area was ready for a makeover.
"It used to be real ugly," said Dalton, laughing at the truth.
"It was just a patch of real weedy grass out there," added McDonald, "with just a few half-dead shrubs. We wanted something that people could look at out the window while they were in the dentist's office."
Both McDonald and Dalton had been puttering around in gardens at their homes and decided to put their green thumbs to work at the dental clinic. McDonald has been gardening for 30 years while Dalton has been at it for only 10, but they share a love for the hobby.
The plants that have taken over the small area in front of the dental clinic were leftovers form the gardeners' homes. After shopping online for seeds for various plants, like two children in a candy store, Dalton and McDonald bought more seeds than they could fit in their own gardens.
The Ôleftovers' they planted in front of the clinic soon turned the desolate spot into a riot of colors and attractive plant life.
The first year Dalton and McDonald planted seeds was experimental, because they were not sure what would grow in the sandy soil and poor sunlight. Once they determined what took well to the area, they planted perennials such as Asiatic jasmine, poker plant, and the perennial hibiscus. But plants such as elephant ears need to be planted every spring. The plant got its name because its shape resembles an elephant's ear.
In the spring the clinic's gardeners add fertilizer to the soil along with any new seeds. After that they share the responsibilities of keeping their plants alive. To beat the Georgia heat and blazing sun, every morning after settling into work they glance over their garden. They find it relaxing to observe their small garden in the dim morning light and watch an occasional hummingbird visit some of their plants.
Every week they trim back the flourishing potato vine they planted as ground cover that tries to takeover the sidewalk. They also cut and dig-up any plants that are dying.
Some may think of maintaining a garden as work, but not these two plant lovers.
"It's outside and it's totally different from what I do during the day at the dental clinic," said McDonald.
"I like it because plants don't talk back," said Dalton as she smiled. "When you have children you learn to appreciate things that don't talk."
Along with providing the two with a way to forget about the stress of work and home life, the garden also lures many curious people into the facility. They remember many occasions people peeked into the doorway to ask about various plants.
With their garden flourishing and many plants in reserve at their homes, Dalton and McDonald often snip buds and plant cuttings to give them to others. They both enjoy the attention they have received since they planted the garden and welcome conversations about planting and sharing gardening tips.
Although they frequently give buds and plants to interested inquirers, they occasionally see someone snap off plant buds and hurriedly walk away, as if they just committed a crime. Both of them don't fuss when they see this thieving unfold because they feel there is some truth in the old wives' tale: a stolen plant grows better. However they are more than willing to give away buds and plants to those who ask for them.
For now they continue to bask in the satisfaction the garden brings to their lives and others. However, the new medical facility being built may not offer enough room for their hobby. Whatever happens the two will continue to find happiness in gardening.