Dotty Ruth Leatherwood spent four decades serving Cleveland County in healthcare and education.
A master gardener, when she wasn’t working to improve the county through United Way, Hospice, Rotary Club or some other board, she could be found among her plants or in the kitchen cooking for her family.
Leatherwood died in 2021, but the community she served is rallying to create a memorial garden as a tribute to the lasting impact she made.
The Dotty Leatherwood Memorial Garden will be created on a wooded piece of land beside the LeGrand Center on South Post Road in Shelby. The garden will be a retreat, outdoor classroom and entertainment venue and will be open to the public.
The garden will be fully wheelchair accessible with public parking located nearby.
Amenities will include waterfalls, winding concrete paths, walking bridges, sitting areas and an outdoor amphitheater with grass seating.
Anne Eskridge, past president of the Extension Master Gardener Association of Cleveland County, is a member of the Dotty Leatherwood Memorial Garden Planning Committee.
Both organizations are leading the creation of the public garden to honor the life and legacy of Leatherwood.
“I am wanting to get the whole county excited about it,” Eskridge said. “We are very, very excited about it and hoping everybody else will be too. We hope they’ll support us with funding and everything that goes along with it.”
The garden, which is being designed and constructed by Paradise Landscaping, will be completed in phases, as funding becomes available.
“I think it will be such an asset for the city and the whole county,” Eskridge said. “So many people will be able to use it in so many different ways.”
Eskridge said when Leatherwood passed away, Greg Traywick, county extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, and Steve Leatherwood, Dotty’s husband, had a conversation about ways to honor her memory. Leatherwood wanted the extension office involved because Dotty started the Master Gardener program at the extension office and was its first president.
Years before, Traywick had a conversation with Jason Falls at the LeGrand Center about the potential for an on-site garden.
“Then that bell went off in his head, and he said that would be a wonderful place to do this,” Eskridge said.
Approval was gained from county officials and the college, which own parts of the property.
“There had to be a lot of people involved in the approval of it, but everyone jumped right on board,” Eskridge said. “Everybody knew Dotty Leatherwood and knew what she has done for the county in her healthcare work and work with community service and education and continuing education. Everybody was just more than happy to jump on board and said let’s make this happen.”
A website has been designed and launched and they are now at the fundraising stage with the first event planned.
Traywick is applying for grants from various state and local organizations.
“There’s a lot that has to be done,” Eskridge said, “basic things before the garden can actually start.”
She said a creek runs through the property, and it will need to be stabilized before any other work can proceed.
A groundbreaking is planned for Sept. 10 at 10 a.m. at the site of the garden.
“It has a lot of wonderful features to it,” Eskridge said. “We’re going to keep it natural and wooded like it is now, save all those big trees, restore the creek and have bridges and an outdoor amphitheater so people coming to the Legrand Center for conferences can have them outside if they want, and the college can have a meeting space. It will have a lot of [Dotty’s] favorite plants and ferns and things that she loved.”
Master gardener volunteers will hone their skills in the space and share their knowledge through workshops and demonstrations. Schools and youth organizations can use the space to learn and interact with nature and Cleveland Community College students, faculty and staff can take advantage of the garden for socializing, studying or teaching.
“She was big in learning and continuing education, and I think it would make her really happy that people would have classes in the garden to learn,” Eskridge said.
A daylily fundraiser is currently underway, and Paul Owen, a multi award-winning daylily hybridizer and owner of a Slightly Different Nursery, has donated 100 daylilies.
People can make a $100 donation and will receive one of three beautiful daylilies of their choice.
The three options are called Dotty’s Distinctive Flair, Dotty’s Radiant Spirit and Deep Hearted Dotty. People can go online and complete an order form or pick one up at the NC Cooperative Extension Office at 130 S. Post Road, Shelby.
People can pick up the lilies during the groundbreaking on Sept. 10.
For daylily order forms, more information on the garden and upcoming fundraisers, or to make a donation for the Dotty Leatherwood Memorial Garden, go to leatherwoodgarden.org.
For those interested in the Master Gardener program, the new Master Gardener class will start Aug. 18 through Nov. 3 in a hybrid format. Course work will be done online with one in-person meeting a week. Aug. 12 is the deadline to register. Registration is $125. For applications, contact Julie Flowers at 704-482-4365.
Rebecca Sitzes can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on The Shelby Star: Dotty Leatherwood Memorial Garden to honor legacy of community leader
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