Profile 2019: Keeping Indianola Beautiful

By BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,

What began as an exercise in stress reduction in 2008 has cultivated into a bountiful harvest for the city of Indianola and its citizens through the efforts of Robin Rosenthal and the Keep Indianola Beautiful campaign.

Rosenthal said her interest in gardening was a by-product of her intent on recouping a 50-foot by 55-foot plat behind her studio in uptown New Orleans that people had been allowed to use as a dumpsite. “That kind of got me moving into it. You can work out a lot of anxiety, digging in the dirt,” she said.

The happenstance horticulturist said she dug to a depth of at least three feet. “Found all sorts of things, I completely cleared the property except for one tree and then planted this amazing garden there,” she said. However, Rosenthal admits that wasn’t her only stress reliever. “You can make bread and beat the tar out of bread, which I did a lot of that too,” she said.

Straight out of the River Ridge community of the Crescent City, her passion for transforming her surroundings found a new home in the Crown of the Delta.

The intersection of U.S. 82 and U.S. 49 is initially what planted the drive in her to work locally. “Every time I drove through, it was a mess,” she said. Rosenthal asserts that the trouble was that once the vegetation was planted, the public works department was expected to tend to the foliage; however, in most cases they are not trained gardeners.

Rosenthal implied that in some instances it is difficult to tell a flowering weed from a true flower. “You don’t expect them to know that’s not what they’re there for,” she said. Rosenthal and a public works employee were slated to attend a conference towards the end of last year that would help with the necessary training, but the seated board of aldermen denied the request.

That failed attempt led to Rosenthal’s resignation from the Keep Indianola Beautiful campaign, which prompted a public outcry and pleas from the citizens that eventually got her to reconsider.

Nonetheless, since that brief unscheduled hiatus, the New Orleans transplant has renewed her ambition to make Indianola one of the most beautiful, well-kept and noticed municipalities in the state.

She admits that she has plenty more to learn; however, she is also making strides to teach the volunteers and others as she works with them. “I only know from what I have learned. I have a lot more to learn. The more you know the more you find out that you have to learn,” she said.

With several awards and distinctions already earned, Rosenthal is hot on the trail of more. She is already a two-time recipient of the Circle of Excellence Award, which provides a $500 cash prize for each that Rosenthal plans to use to complete an arbor construction project at the community garden.

Plans for the arbor include a fig tree and benches, plus a meditational walkway around the garden. She stressed that her focus is not on planting the garden, but on the adjacent grounds.

In addition, the Mississippi Urban Forestry League has selected Rosenthal to be a member of its board of trustees, which she said would forge a partnership between the league and the city. “One of the things they’re going to help us with is that we’re going to do flowers along the Oak Street side of the community garden,” she said.

Rosenthal also has other on going projects at Gilmer Park and Robert L. Merritt Jr. High. The Merritt project engages students in a drawing contest that culminates into the winners’ drawings being displayed on five large concrete planters that line the walkway entrance of the school.

Even in a late December rainstorm she was out at the school swapping out plants. “These don’t do well in the winter,” she said. Why in the rain? “I don’t have to carry a watering can and with the soil moist, it’s easier to pull up the weeds,” she said with a grin.

The green-thumbed enthusiast is also actively searching for grants that could help supply the benches for her project and other endeavors. One possible funding source would require the collection of recyclable plastic bags that would be turned in for park benches.

Despite her already demanding schedule, in February, Rosenthal was expected to attend her seventh Keep America Beautiful conference on behalf of the city. She is enrolled in a nearly three-month long master gardener’s program that requires four hours every Saturday and will soon have to kick off her Great American Cleanup project in mid-March or early April, sometime before Easter.

That, plus keeping all of the other ongoing projects working keeps Indianola’s top volunteer very busy. Rosenthal said she is always in need of volunteers and the best part is they don’t have to be professionals or enthusiasts, just willing to help.

In her role as director of the Keep Indianola Beautiful project, Rosenthal demonstrates what focus, determination, a desire to titivate, and a little fertilizer can do to enhance a community.

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