A city in bloom
By Kelly Lynch | KPC News
LIGONIER — Erin Kilgore believes Ligonier’s gardens serve as a nice smile during a first introduction.
“It’s just like when you find a partner for life,” Kilgore said. “You look at them and their physical (self) is what you see first, but once you get there, the personality is what keeps you. And I think we lure them in with our flowers, then we charm them with our personalities, and then people are like, ‘I want to come back.’”
Kilgore, 38, spends her summers tending to the multiple flower beds, gardens and baskets throughout the city, including the Jennie Thompson Garden at Kenney Park, Triangle Park on Cavin Street, Pettit Memorial Park’s quilt bed and the northside welcome sign.
She’s tasked with this through her position at Countryscapes & Gardens, and each day she does something different. Tuesdays and Thursdays are exclusively weeding and trimming, while the rest of the week sees her traveling from place to place, watering and caring for the plants.
And her days start early, with her waking up with the sun.
“This time of year right now, I’ve been going in around 7 because it’s too dark at 6,” Kilgore said. “But normally, I get up at 4, I go in at 6 and I work until 2.”
This summer has been exceptionally tough on the flowers because of the lack of rain, meaning Kilgore’s job became that much tougher. Instead of relying on the sprinkler system at the Jennie Thompson Garden as usual, she found herself there every morning hand watering flowers herself to make sure they thrived.
Others were not so fortunate, as Kilgore found herself having to replace some beds of SunPatiens early in August with the usual fall mums because the dry ground and hot sun had killed them prematurely.
“Each year has different challenges, but then a lot of surprises and rewards as well,” Kilgore said. “The things that just took off and were beautiful at the beginning, like the petunia — they’re pretty hardy, they can do the cooler weather — they’re on their dieback.”
Kilgore is on her fourth season caring for the gardens. It’s a line of work she never dreamed of for herself.
She didn’t grow up planting gardens or playing in the dirt, but after finding herself unhappy working in an office setting where she handled customer service for nearly a decade, she decided to make a change.
With two children grown to an age where they could start to take care of themselves, she wanted something that would work with their school schedules, as family is Kilgore’s No. 1 priority.
She found it at Countryscapes & Gardens in Ligonier.
“I get the best of both worlds. I get to be outside all summer long, and then in the winter — I hate winter — so I can stay in my pajamas all day,” Kilgore said. “It’s fun.”
But more than the flexibility the business gives her, she’s found a family in those she works with. Kilgore explained she couldn’t do her job without those around her — those who plan each garden’s design, create the initial layout and help in the transition to fall.
“I feel like I should pay them to work for them,” Kilgore said. “A lot of times people hate their jobs. They go to work every day, and it’s a grudge match. I don’t have that.
“I get up and go to work and it’s OK … It’s not about me. Everybody here works together for the greater good for something that is bigger than them.”
Parks Director Alan Duncan takes advantage of being outside to admire the work Kilgore and others do. He often checks the gardens inside the parks for vandalism or other issues, but it also gives him a moment to relax in a serene environment.
“If I need some relaxing time, I stroll through. I go through the gardens twice or three times a week, not just to check them out, but it’s just relaxing,” Duncan said. “You’d be surprised how many people driving by stop and walk through the gardens, and how beautiful they are year in and year out.”
It seems the continued hard work by Countryscapes and Kilgore is also paying off, as city officials have taken notice of the warm welcome the flowers provide to visitors of Ligonier.
A portion of Monday’s City Council meeting was spent lauding all the gardens residents could enjoy this summer.
“I want to comment on how beautiful the parks and gardens look,” Councilman Ken Schuman said. “Everything looks fantastic.”
ClerkTreasurer Barb Hawn agreed.
“All the flowers are just fantastic this year,” Hawn said.
Kilgore said compliments like that are one of the highlights of the job, knowing that all the work everyone puts in is appreciated.
“The best part is we have gotten so many compliments on the gardens this year,” Kilgore said. “People in and out all day, they shout out their windows at me, ‘It looks great! The gardens are so beautiful!’ I think people here in town really like it, love it.”
Her job continues through the fall as the gardens will transition to get ready for winter weather. She will plant mums in the place of the summer flowers and replant others if necessary.
At some point, she’ll be asked to stop pulling weeds, and she’ll go to the gardens less and less, working at Fashion Farm instead to prepare for Pumpkin Fantasyland.
But it won’t stop the smile on her face when she talks about the gardens and her work, and especially those who help her to tend to them and those who appreciate them.
“People feel cheerful. And we were ranked the No. 1 safest city, and I’m pretty sure that has everything to do with the flowers,” Kilgore said with a laugh. “I’m just kidding.”