We receive so much from so many.
The idea behind Green Amber Gardens is to honor those who spent a lifetime—or gave their lives—in service to others.
All of us have known those who were devoted to serving others, often at great sacrifice to themselves. People like Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Cullins. His story inspired Green Amber Gardens, and there are thousands of people whose lives are as worthy of notice. That's where we come in.
It's a variation on the 'pay it forward' concept. We can tell the stories of those who served in any capacity. Soldiers and sailors, or police and fire, yes. And also the welcoming waitress who remembered your coffee right every time. Or the letter carrier who always checked on seniors on his delivery route. Ordinary people doing what are increasingly less ordinary things.
If you have a story that resonates with you as I have with Joshua Cullins, go do something related to a garden or park in memory of that person. It could be planting a tree or new flower bed in your yard, or maybe through a local arbor day or school campus project. Starting or volunteering at a community garden. Giving part of your home-grown produce to a local food bank. Placing a stepping stone at a nature preserve. Donating a park bench. Painting a garden wall. Be creative and make it fun!!
The idea is for everyone. Those who want to remember someone, but don't have the means to give beyond their own backyard. Those who want to do SOMETHING, but are disheartened by the usual “gimme money” pitch. Those who want to remember someone and do have the money, but not the personal interest or ability to grow anything themselves. And even those who simply want to have a reason for planting something else (as in the I'm-trying-to-find-a-way-to-justify-buying-just-one-more-plant people? You know who you are! LOL)
Remembrance doesn’t have to be huge or expensive. To a hungry person, getting a one-time sack of squash and tomatoes can be as meaningful and long-lasting as getting a million dollar meeting center would be to a city. It is making the personal effort to acknowledge a lifetime of generosity which was shared with us as individuals, as communities, and as a country that offers the honor.
We can use our gardens and our homes and our towns to remember and celebrate those gifts given to us. And can continue to share them with others. One small act of recognition does ripple outward and those ripples can positively affect each of our own lives for much longer than we may imagine.
All we have to do is try.
These four stories are the ones that rang loud and crystalline clear for me. I hope they inspire you, as well.
Military and Civilian
Warriors and Heroes All
STAFF SGT. JOSHUA J. CULLINS
Simi Valley, CA
Joshua Cullins was a 28-year-old LAPD officer and Marine reservist who was killed in Afghanistan October, 2010 by a roadside bomb. He had just returned to the field after recovering from a previous bomb-related injury sustained in July. He was scheduled to be moved out of the field two days after he died and had been expected home by Christmas. Josh is the inspiration for Green Amber Gardens.
This "Best Bet" Tall Bearded Iris was planted in my yard for him. First year blooming and is as true-blue as was Joshua. I also registered a purple daylily seedling in his name (which is as close to blue as any daylily gets.)
Built this bed for the daylily. Came out badge-shaped, which was unintentional, but I like it.
Josh's daylily blooming in my yard Spring, 2013. Will darken up with next year's bloom.
Jillian Michele Smith
Officer, Arlington, TX PD
Officer Jillian Smith died December 28, 2010 while taking a domestic disturbance report. Deemed a low priority call as the aggressor had left, department policy was for a single officer—in this case, Smith—to be dispatched. While Officer Smith was interviewing the woman, the woman’s former boyfriend returned with a gun. When he aimed the gun at the woman’s 11-year-old-child, Officer Smith threw herself between him and the little girl and was killed. The gunman dragged the woman into a bedroom, shot and killed her, then shot and killed himself. Because of Jillian Smith’s instantaneous action and unflinching courage, the child was able escape the residence with no physical harm.
Jillian Smith planned to go into law enforcement after she attended a D.A.R.E. class in the sixth grade. She graduated cum laude in 2009 from the University of Texas at Arlington with a degree in Criminology. Her field training had been completed only 15 days before her death. As a result of her loss, the Arlington Police Department has made changes to their domestic disturbance response policy.
A long-time member of Mount Olive Baptist Church, she is survived by her parents, Douglas and Sonya Smith, and her sister, Jessica Smith. She was 24 years old.
Greater love has no one than this…
Jillian Smith's dedicated Orangeola Japanese Maple, waiting for the right spot in my yard. In the meantime, it is thriving in its blue container—even in the heat of a Texas Summer 2012.
Jillian's Japanese Maple - Spring 2014
...and, finally, out of that blue container and into a larger pot. Summer 2014
Officer, San Diego, CA PD
Captain, USMC Reserves
Jeremy Henwood returned to his beat as a patrol officer with the San Diego Police Department in May, 2011 after serving a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. On the afternoon of August 6, 2011, a black Audi came up beside Officer Henwood’s patrol car where he was stopped at a traffic sign, the front passenger window was lowered, and someone in the car opened fire with a shotgun, hitting Officer Henwood in the head. He died early the next morning. The car, which was suspected to have been involved in an earlier shooting, was located in a nearby apartment complex. The driver was shot and killed by officers when he refused to surrender and reached for that shotgun instead.
Officer Henwood’s life was dedicated to service. Even in death, he was still serving and saving lives when his parents generously donated his organs. But it is what happened in the last minutes before that shotgun blasted which may have showcased who Officer Henwood was as truly as the award of any shiny medal, as absolutely as the wearing of either uniform. While standing at a McDonald’s counter getting lunch, a 13-year old boy asked him for 10 cents. When the boy was asked what the money was for, he said he wanted to buy cookies. Officer Henwood bought the cookies for the boy and briefly talked with him. The boy said he wanted to be a NBA star, and they talked about how he would have to work hard to be NBA. The boy’s answer was, "I know." He was quoted later, "I'm the last one to talk to him that day, I'm the one to get good advice from him. I'm gonna take that to my heart," says Daveon. "He did his work in life. He served for his country, so God made my dream come true to get advice from a person above my level like that to get advice like that. God makes this happen for a reason."
That is how we should remember him. Not as the heart-rending victim of a criminal act. But as the man who served three tours of combat duty in defense of his country. As not only a dedicated law enforcement officer who dealt with all the grime and degradation humans can inflict on each other, but as a contemporary embodiment of the Norman Rockwell portrait. As a man whose kindness and generosity will live after him in his deep and lasting impression on one young boy.
As the true reflection of everything we ask our heroes to be.
Draft arrangement of bench materials being built to honor Officer Henwood. Will have a cinder block base for durability, and colorful tiles and remnants covering the exterior. Each piece is reclaimed or repurposed from older uses. The seat will be cut from this fence panel and have his name, department, military branch, and years of birth and death wood-burned into the surface, which will then be sealed.
Clarence "C.J." Robinson
On the afternoon of December 15, 2011, 18-year-old Clarence Robinson was walking to pick up his young nephew from school. As he passed the intersection of North Collins and Brown Boulevard in Arlington, he witnessed a horrific crash involving eight vehicles. A SUV, traveling at an estimated 100 miles an hour, slammed into the back of a truck which was waiting for the light to change, killing that driver instantly. The SUV came to rest not far from Robinson. From inside, he heard children crying and ran to help. As he reached the SUV and began to get the twin toddlers out of the back, the driver opened fire on Robinson, killing him. Bystanders and officers described the driver as laughing and ranting bizarrely. He had been fleeing from the scene of an earlier hit-and-run accident when he caused the crash; intoxication is suspected.
Robinson moved to Arlington from New Orleans after Katrina. He had recently dropped out of high school and was studying for his GED. While taking on as many shifts as he could get at the sandwich shop where he was employed in order to pay for the GED, he was also saving for a car and helping his family financially. Family, friends, coworkers, and classmates all describe him as someone always looking out for others. Always trying to boost spirits when there was trouble. A young man who loved to dance and make people laugh. A Good Samaritan who ran without hesitation to help frightened children because it was the right thing to do. A young man whose life should be remembered for who he was and what he did, not for the senseless way he died.
This is C.J.'s Circle, 2012. Planted with Harvest Moon, Hot Papaya, and Marmalade Echinaceas, blooms from which will be as cheerful and sturdy as C.J. was himself. I built it using chalk rock reclaimed from a street construction project.
C. J.'s Circle 2013
Removed the chalk rock (it crumbled).
Added "Paprika" Achillea and “Clarence” Tall Bearded Iris to the circle in July, 2014.
Copyright 2014 Green Amber Gardens