Before December, if you’ve ever taken an early morning jog in downtown Auburn or maybe grabbed a bite to eat for breakfast there, you might have spotted someone caring. hanging flower baskets that line several blocks in the heart of the city.
If you’re an observer, you might have noticed it was the same woman every day, pulling her watering cart along College Street, Magnolia Avenue, and other streets. Her name is Colleen Jennings, and that’s a role she held for 17 years before passing the torch – or the water, so to speak – to the next person.
As of 7:30 a.m., regardless of the season, Jennings was the sole keeper of Auburn’s hanging baskets as a member of the Auburn Beautification Council, ensuring everyone was in good health.
âIt’s more of a commitment than people think,â Jennings said. âSummer is the most demanding I would say. When we replant in the fall and spring, you are on a ladder to do the planting.
In 2004, Auburn Parks and Recreation Director Becky Richardson approached Jennings about the role, seeing it as a natural fit given Jennings’ passion for gardening.
âI knew Colleen had some horticultural background and I knew she was really good at working with plants,â said Richardson. âIt turned out to be a very reliable partnership. She was very reliable in being there, checking installations regularly, troubleshooting and replacing installations if necessary.
Jennings said the post was opened after the Embellishment Council introduced the baskets, but decided not to leave the responsibility for their care to downtown merchants.
âI don’t think it worked so well,â Jennings said. “So it evolved and the members of ABC were going to turn around and deal with it, and I don’t know how it worked either.”
Jennings has lived in Auburn since 1985 when she was a student at Auburn University and said she ‘fell in love with plants and soil’ while working in the landscaping services of the ‘university. Hailing from Fairhope, Alabama, however, she grew up around the sea and sand more than the ground, and wasn’t seen staying in town after graduation at first.
âI’m a beach girl and I was here to graduate and probably go back south,â she said. âWhen I was in school, I met my current husband and started a family. It is a good place to live.
Her husband, James, maintained his love for greenery while he graduated in horticulture and went on to serve as Auburn town’s beautification and urban forestry superintendent, she said. The watering job ended up working well for Jennings, providing her with an income while allowing her to be a stay-at-home mom.
Over the years, as the number of baskets has gradually increased from 22 when she started to 35 now, Jennings has become quite familiar with which flowers and plants grow best in baskets in which seasons. .
âIn winter, thoughts are just thoughts because that’s what will survive the cold,â she said. âIn the summer, the real wild plants are because you can use a variety. The summer plants I use are mandevillas, hibiscus, angelonia, vinca, plumbago, Joseph’s mantle, zinnias – and I’m sure I’m forgetting some – but summer plants were really my beauties.
Catrina Cook, Director of Environmental Services for the City of Auburn and Co-Chair of the Beautification Council, said Jennings has truly become a side of downtown Auburn in all the years she has worked there.
âWe get calls saying how beautiful the baskets were and that people wanted to know where we got them from and who was looking after them,â Cook said. “I appreciated her presence in the city center (and) many traders as well, because I think they all got to know her.”
Jennings said his fondest memory of all his mornings downtown was meeting Auburn head coach Pat Dye as he left the J&M bookstore and didn’t recognize who he was.
“I tell him about my watering can that I have used and where he can buy it, and that it is rather expensive,” she said with a laugh. âAt the end of our little exchange, he revealed who he was. I think Pat Dye could have afforded the watering wand.
Jennings’ last regular day downtown was November 7th. Now the wand rests on Summer Vaughan, the new hanging basket drinker who met Jennings through a mutual friend, who said she had “really big shoes to fill.”
â(Jennings) is amazing and has been so helpful,â Vaughan said. “She made me a list to find out what (plants) work (because) after doing it for so many years, she had a science of it.”
Cook said Jennings’ efforts will continue even if she steps down.
The Beautification Council “has released a list of every basket donor we’ve had, and this year has been our biggest number,” Cook said. âPeople notice them. It’s all thanks to the work Colleen has done over the years.