esidents of Durham’s Good Samaritan Inn, a shelter for homeless women, children and families, will have a beautiful garden to enjoy, thanks in part to design services provided by a landscape horticulture class from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Last year, Pat Lindsey’s class in the Horticultural Science Department was called on to develop a plan for a meditative garden outside the newly renovated facility. Cooperative Extension in Durham County also plans to offer Master Gardener-style training to residents who will maintain the garden.
Involvement by Lindsey’s students has continued. Last fall, several were among the volunteers who helped install garden materials at the inn over five Saturday work days. A senior student has taken on design of a children’s playground that is part of the garden site. And Lindsey’s spring design class developed a design for a raised planter in a narrow space between the inn and an adjacent highway to screen noise and views.
The Good Samaritan Inn is a symbol of hope for the women and children who will move into the center. It is also a symbol of hope for the community. For many years, the former motel off Interstate 85 stood empty and had become a Durham eyesore.
Gail and Ernie Mills, founders of the 30-year-old Durham Rescue Mission, saw hope in the motel as a future site to house women and children, even some families with men, women and children. Benefactors have adopted individual rooms to decorate for families who live at the Good Samaritan Inn.
In addition to housing, the center will include a Microsoft-certified computer training center for residents. When completely renovated, the Good Samaritan Inn will house up to 150 people, making it the largest women’s shelter with a training program in the Carolinas.
The Durham Council of Garden Clubs got involved in the project and was planning the inn’s garden last spring. Rhonda Pollard, president of the Durham Council of Garden Clubs, contacted N.C. State University and asked Lindsey’s class to take on the project.
Lindsey was delighted to involve students in the project. “This was a unique experience for our students,” she said.
The garden was planned as a place where residents could find healing and enjoy space outside their rooms at the inn, as well as a place to congregate and to find solitude. “Gardens connect people and heal them and restore them,” Lindsey said.
Four groups from her class created plans for the meditative garden. To better understand the needs of their clients, the students did research on homeless women and met with women who are residents of the current rescue mission to learn what they wanted in a garden. The women wanted the garden to have a place to walk, a water feature, gathering spaces, quiet spaces for solitude and a place where children could play.
“The students said the experience changed their perception of the homeless,” Lindsey said.
In addition, the project gave students a chance to experience the give-and-take that goes on between designers and clients in a real-world project.
“You have to make a strong, compelling case for what you want to do” when presenting a design to a client, Lindsey said.
“It can’t all be just academic exercises,” she said.
Pollard and the Millses saw the student plans, and they were so impressed they could not choose only one plan. They asked the students to combine elements from the four plans into one final plan.
“Their work was abundantly more than we could have asked,” Gail Mills said. “We were very impressed by the students’ creativity. It was impossible for us to choose one plan.”
In November, volunteers installed hundreds of donated trees, shrubs, sod and other plants, along with the walking trail, in the garden. Several N.C. State horticulture students served as team leaders to oversee the project. Landscaper Cathy Lindsey, Pat Lindsey’s sister, was instrumental in helping obtain donated plants and other materials from vendors.
One student, senior Corley Rash, decided to take on designing the children’s playground for her senior project. Equipment for the playground, valued at $42,000, has all been donated.
In February, clients from the Good Samaritan Inn, including the Millses and Pollard, returned to N.C. State to meet with Lindsey’s students on another project – a design for a narrow strip of land between the inn and I-85. Students proposed a number of creative options for the site, including tall plants to screen the highway, a wall with small spaces for family gardens, a water feature and a vine-covered trellis.
The clients chose a design created by student Tina Oberle that defied the linear nature of the space by incorporating curves in a walled planter. Her site plan included different types of plants of varying heights, a multicolored awning and a water feature.
To further involve residents in the garden, Paul McKenzie, horticulture agent with Cooperative Extension in Durham County, hopes to teach some basic gardening classes at the Good Samaritan Inn, patterned after Extension’s Master Gardener program.
Residents will be responsible for helping care for the inn and its garden. So McKenzie wants to teach them some basic skills, including how to calibrate a fertilizer or operate an irrigation system. These skills may even lead to job opportunities for the women, he said.
Gardening also can be therapeutic and enjoyable for inn residents. “Hopefully these women will live in their own home someday and would like to do some gardening,” McKenzie said.
Lindsey is excited about the role her students have played in making the garden a reality for residents of the Good Samaritan Inn. She believes the space can provide a refuge for those trying to become whole.
“You need to be outdoors, and you need plants,” she said. “You need that connection to the environment.”
Gail Mills, who believes the garden will touch those who come to live at the inn, said, “We wanted women, when they drove through the gate, to see this beautiful garden and be awed and to know that someone cared.”