For decades I have relaxed on garden and park benches around the world. Now I can sit on my own park bench. I received it as a Christmas gift from Rose last year. “Better to honor you with a bench now than after you’re dead,” she said wryly. Touching, I thought.
Rose asked me where I’d like to place the bench. I wasn’t sure. I am fond of all 17 of Louisville’s Olmsted-designed parks, especially, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Shelby, Victory, and Iroquois parks, but they are all several miles away. I could walk to the bench in the 389-acre Cherokee Park, though it is not my bench alone. It is a gloriously public bench. I can find another tranquil spot if it is taken.
Olmsted Parks Conservancy CEO Layla George told me, “Frederick Law Olmsted designed 5 parks—Cherokee, Iroquois, Shawnee, Boone Square and Baxter Square parks, along with the concept of the park system and parkways. His son John Charles came to finish the work after FLO’s retirement. His sons completed the park system, which stands at 17 parks and 6 parkways today, the largest and most complete of all the park systems FLO designed.”
Cherokee Park and Asheville’s Biltmore Estate were a few of FLO’s last projects.
Where would I choose to watch the world go by?
I have spent Saturdays for nearly 20 years at Cherokee’s Big Rock with the Big Rock Tai Chi Club. It’s at one end of Cherokee Park. Baringer Hill is at the other end.
Rose often walks the Cherokee Park loop with her friend Kathy Cary. From here, on Baringer Hill, in the winter, you can see our house less than a mile away as the crow flies. The people-watching around Baringer Hill is superb. Kathy suggested a spot underneath three muscular bur oaks trees, just a few yards from benches honoring friends Mimi Zinniel, Minx and Sy Auerbach, and Donald Whitfield.
Bur oaks, good company, and a view. I’ll take it.
Plein air painters, hammock dwellers, and bubble blowers were a bonus, proof of Frederick Law Olmsted’s statement on the steps of the nearby Baringer Overlook Shelter.
“A great object of all the art of a park is to influence minds through imagination.”
Sycamores, walnuts, hickories, cucumber magnolias, black haws, and frost weeds were down the hill.
I was soon singing the lyrics from a song from Meshell NdegeOcello’s Plantation Lullabies album: “Come here. Just sit back, relax and listen to the 8-track. I dig you like an old soul record.”
Sit back and relax was a starter. Sound quaint? Not when Grammy Award-winning, singer-songwriter and bassist NdegeOcello makes sitting sound so melodic and seductive:
“Yes, I’m diggin’ you. I dig you like an old soul record. Come ‘ere. Just sit back, relax and listen to the 8-track. I dig you like an old soul record.”
I was on the board of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy for 19 years. My principal interest was collaborating with Louisville Metro Parks on landscape maintenance. Vital run-of-the-mill stuff. For instance: convincing Louisville’s Metro Parks that mowers and string trimmers are not a tree’s best friend. Progress was made. We encouraged Metro Parks to visit Central Park in New York and the Buffalo Parks Conservancy to see how they approached maintenance.
You’ll never get rid of this
Another Conservancy effort, against long odds, involved the 2005 Woodlands Restoration Capital Campaign to raise $800,000 initially to remove 200 acres of invasive bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maacki) in Cherokee, and an additional 100 acres in nearby Seneca Park, that was suffocating ephemeral woodland wildflowers and inhibiting seedling germination of trees and shrubs. It was a hard sell. The unsuspecting public wondered, “What’s wrong with honeysuckles?” Naysayers said, “You’ll never get rid of this.”
The Conservancy succeeded, and the Team for Healthy Parks became the landscape legacy, with honorable ambassadors—hardworking, devoted dirt grubbers and tree planters led by Matt Spalding and Liz Winlock. The Team works closely with the city’s Metro Parks, tasked with overall parks maintenance.
The Conservancy advocates for parks preservation and helps raise private funds to supplement the strained budget of Louisville’s Metro Parks. Despite being called the City of Parks, Louisville falls short in respect to per capita spending elsewhere, at roughly $44.00 per citizen year (compared to leading cities such as Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon which invest over twice this amount).
In addition to my wish that folks would use the bench to Sit Back and Relax, I wanted to use the plaque like bus advertising to benefit the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
A short quote on the plaque came with the bench.
I didn’t want anything written in the past tense.
“Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s mission is to restore, enhance and forever protect Louisville’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkways, connecting nature and neighborhood while strengthening the community’s well-being. Our vision is to elevate our parks to bring the restorative power of nature to all.”
There were space limitations on the plaque, but you get the gist.
Thank you for the bench, sweet Rose.
Sit back relax. Yes, I’m digging you.