Originally created 09/26/03

Love of gardening takes root after educator's retirement



Sarah Washington spent 45 "beautiful years" tending the children of Columbia County and the past 24 tending her garden.

As the sole teacher in the one-room Mount Olive Elementary School in Evans in 1934, through years as principal at Gibbs, Evans and Westmont elementary schools, Ms. Washington had to put her passion for flowers on semi-hold.

"I was interested in flowers when I was teaching, but when you're working you don't have the time," she said. "I was at work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. a lot of times. I may have had a few (plants) here and there, but not to a great extent until I retired, and I had more time to spend."

Since retiring in 1979, she has made up for lost time at her Highland Avenue residence.

A row of purple coleus, impatiens and yellow blooming flowers greet passers-by in front of her manicured front yard. A thriving potato vine along the porch railing frames pots of blooming begonias.

In the back yard, a low brick wall separates the lawn from a variety of shrubs and flowering plants.

"I grew up in Columbia County, and we had our small farm, my parents did," she said. "Ambrose and Belle Avery. I had such good parents. He was good at farming, and he was also good at construction.

"My mother was a school teacher also. She had gone to high school at Haines Normal and Industrial Institute. It's Laney High now. She was into flowers, and we lived out there and had a big yard. We just had flowers all over the place. And we could go out in the woods and get a lot of things, like dogwoods in the fall."

The gardenias in the back yard remind her of two huge ones that grew on each side of the front walk of their "country home."

"As long as I can remember we had flowers," she said. "So now I go around and I try to get flowers with a similar color."

The white blooming altheas, azaleas, pink crape myrtles and a single peach tree all remind her of home.

"When we were on the farm, we had a beautiful orchard," she said. "Peaches, apples, cherry trees. And I always wanted a peach tree. A little one came up in a compost pile, and I kept it in a pot. In the spring I put it in the yard. I probably won't ever have any peaches on it, but I have a tree."

This year, for the first - and possibly the last - time, she planted elephant ears.

"When I was in high school, this family I lived with had elephant ears in their front yard," she said. "They had a beautiful front yard with nothing but elephant ears. They were so beautiful. My problem is in my back yard I don't get much sun."

Ms. Washington's nephews, Kenneth and Rufus Sanders built the brick wall. They stop by almost every day and help her with the heavy work, such as turning the heavy pots of elephant ears or putting rocks around her backyard birdbath.

"I'm into birds also," she said. "I love my birds. And hummingbirds too."

She especially loves the mourning doves.

"They come in pairs," she said. "One will come, and he'll sing a little song, and the other one will land. They know each other. They're mates."

Ms. Washington said she can hardly believe how fast the past 24 years have passed.

"It has gone by," she said. "I just can't imagine it's been that long."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.