Retired horticulturist Clayton Davis envisions a new Maggie Valley.
Instead of a tiring five-mile stretch of asphalt along Soco Road, it features a beautiful line of islands brimming with colorful flowers, trees, shrubs and decorative rocks.
Like the tulips at the Biltmore Estate and cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., Davis imagines that Maggie Valley, too, will be renowned for its stunning blooms.
“They’d look just as good here as they do over there,” said Davis. “People drive thousands of miles to see the cherry trees in Washington. Well, they’ll go here, too.”
The only difference is that Davis hopes the flower show in Maggie will last all year long.
Davis has grown 300 species of plants in Western North Carolina year-round and is convinced that Maggie Valley could feature a new bloom every month. An array of eye-catching flowering plants could be featured in islands found in the middle or alongside Soco Road, breaking up the sea of asphalt in Maggie.
“If we work together, we could make it the prettiest town in the United States,” Davis said.
Davis was originally struck with inspiration after visiting a charming small town in South Carolina a few years ago. “Every house had 20 to 30 azaleas planted,” he said. “It just knocked your eyes out.”
Davis touted his idea as a relatively inexpensive avenue to beautifying Maggie Valley, and town leaders were won over. They voted at a special meeting last week to donate $3,000 to get the project started.
Alderman Phil Aldridge said he found Davis’s vision refreshing. Instead of speeding past Maggie Valley, drivers might literally stop and smell the roses.
“It’s not inventing the wheel,” said Aldridge. “It’s simple and easy. There’s so much to gain from it.”
Davis has already worked out a three-year plan with a list of potential plants, from daffodils to knockout roses to crepe myrtles and dogwood trees. At a meeting with the town last week, Davis said at the heart of his plan would be “rocks, roses and rhododendrons.”
He suggests planting the knockout rose, an old-fashioned shrub with the bloodline of native roses. Though they don’t look as attractive up close as other types, the knockout rose is self-cleaning and requires little work. All of the 20-plus plants Davis has chosen are low-maintenance and strongly resistant to disease and insects.
Depending on how extensive Maggie’s rhododendron display gets, the town could one day advertise itself as the rhododendron capital of the country.
In his five-page proposal, Davis writes that decorative rocks are a safe investment in landscaping and retain their magnificence throughout the seasons.
Islands will range in size, but those that serve as a centerpiece may be up to 100 feet long.
Davis has been in contact with Richard Queen at the N.C. Department of Transportation, which is well-experienced with its own highway beautification project. According to Davis, Queen says he is receptive to helping move the project forward in Maggie.
Davis knows of no nearby municipalities undertaking similar projects. He said Maggie Valley could publicize its unique initiative on its website and on letterheads.
“It’s an ace that you can have that no other town has got, that continual splash of color through the whole year,” said Davis.
Though the project will be entirely voluntary, the town will need widespread cooperation of business owners and residents to realize its horticultural vision.
Davis’s report suggests that business owners be asked to contribute financially to the project, give permission to plant on their property and take care of the islands if they are given maintenance training.
Business owners who decide to take part may convince their neighbors to do the same once the flowers start blooming.
“Beauty makes ugly uglier,” Davis said.
Maggie would first focus on “showy” plants and some annuals in its first year; add more expensive trees and shrubs and shift to perennials in the second year; and fine-tune the project and create a long-term vision during the third.
Davis, who has offered to donate his services, and the Parks, Recreation and Festival Board or another town committee will likely head the project.
Grants may be available, and residents and business owners might be asked to chip in by purchasing a rock or specific tree in memory of a loved one.
Davis hopes to use as many volunteers as possible and assemble a crew for the initial planting in November. Preliminary estimates show expenses would stack up to $21,000 by September 2011. Included are 5,000 bulbs of tulips and 5,000 bulbs of daffodils to be planted in late fall.
Rocks — which would weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds — would cost a total of $4,275, according to Davis.
Town leaders hope to hold a public meeting in the late fall or early winter to get stakeholders educated and involved in the initiative.
At last week’s meeting, Alderman Scott Pauley was especially impressed with Davis’s extensive research and enthusiastic presentation. He said it wasn’t often that he came across someone with such notable passion.
“Hopefully, we can go forward with this,” said Pauley.