Willis Park and its gardener

Posted on 21 July 2010

It’s our park—the town square.
The place for gatherings and protests, weddings and concerts.
Willis Park was established in 1904 after Decatur County’s fourth courthouse was moved across the street. But Willis Park saw a transformation last year, thanks to the “gardener.”
Jason Strickland is the city’s horticulturist. July will mark his second year, and in his first year, he got to perform some delicate duties—transform Willis Park.
Strickland said all the trees were growing everywhere.
Plants in there that were to get full sun were always in the shade. There was a lot of trash in there, as far as shrubbery was concerned.
They did a lot of tree trimming and opened up the sun coming into the city’s town square.
“We tried to put more things in there that bloom because everything in there is just green,” Strickland said.
Strickland graduated with an associate’s in environmental science with an emphases in horticulture from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Strickland also worked for the city as a lifeguard prior to going to Tifton to attend college.
He said color was his main object with Willis Park.
He and the two city employees who work with him—Brandon Wynn and Shelby Bullock—added borders in front of the azaleas with snapdragons, which it was his hope to have color longer and not just have the park be so green.
“It’s pretty cool to plant a plant 3 inches tall and then grow it, grow it, turns green and then we grow it as big as you can, and then have the blooms, especially like we did last year,” Strickland said. “It makes you feel good about yourself, and then you have a lot of compliments, but I can’t take all the credit. I couldn’t do it without my two workers, I couldn’t do a lot of things without them.”
Now that Willis Park is blossoming, his next big project is the grass for the new ball fields at the Bill Reynolds Sports Complex.
The city plans to plant 15 to 20 acres of sprigs of a hybrid Bermuda grass on the surface of the baseball and football fields. Strickland said the city picked this type because it is a less-maintenance-style grass and will grow like a carpet.
Strickland also designed and planted new plants at the entrance of the Earle May Boat Basin—another popular city park.
His biggest challenge has been keeping the trees and shuddery healthy that were planted on the medium between Whigham Diary Road and the YMCA.
But Willis Park has been special.
“My flowers; I take a lot of pride in those,” Strickland said. “It makes me feel good that I can add some more beauty to Bainbridge, because we are for the public and we try to do the best for the public.”

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