Vicksburg native Ed Oliver turns unsightly pile of dirt, trash into Belhaven flower garden

Published 8:44 am Monday, July 25, 2022

Editor’s Note: This article is published special to The Vicksburg Post and originally ran in The Northside Sun. View the original article here.

With a mixture of hard work and the addition of rich soil and mulch plus thousands of zinnia seeds, Vicksburg native Ed Oliver transformed an eyesore into a neighborhood happy place now known as the Zinnia Project.

About four years ago, the city of Jackson used truckloads of dirt and “street closed” signs to mark a bridge it shut down next to Oliver’s condo on Belmont Street in Belhaven.

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“Their way of closing it was to dump three truckloads of Yazoo Clay that had pieces of rebar, old clothes, broken glass and other junk,” said Oliver, a retired nurse who once cared for patients at Wiser Hospital for Women and Infants at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Oliver, who now volunteers with the Breakfast Club at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral which provides a morning meal on Tuesdays for the homeless population and once a week at Hospice Ministries in Ridgeland, took the thought “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to heart and somehow saw beauty beyond the unsightly mess.

Ed Oliver

He began by removing the trash from the Yazoo Clay and over time improved the soil left by adding mulch and topsoil and making it into a flowerbed. Neighbors volunteered to help along the way, said Oliver, who loves to get dirt under his fingernails and see what will result from his efforts at gardening.

He threw out some seeds harvested from Queen Ann’s lace in the fall and blossoms resulted. In the spring, he did the same with zinnia seeds and had good luck.

Garden décor came next. Oliver supplied an American flag, a Pride banner and lawn ornaments.

“People put up bric-a-brac and just started adding stuff,” he said, mentioning a painted rock, and over-the-top flamingo statues that came from neighbors.

During Mardi Gras, gold, green and purple beads mark the area and at Christmas there are lights.

A cross is always in place, and Oliver decorates it according to the Episcopal church calendar. During the Lenten season, he covers the cross with black fabric.

Belhaven residents have expressed their gratitude for Oliver’s efforts with surprises.

One person left six bags of topsoil. “Someone knocked on the door and handed me $20,” he said, “and another person left $50 and a thank you note.”

Casey Amborn Creasey, executive director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation and also a Vicksburg native, considers the Zinnia Project something special that exemplifies the kind of neighborhood Belhaven is. “It’s a wonderful example of a resident taking an eyesore and making something beautiful that is a real gift to the neighborhood to be admired,” she said.

Casey Amborn Creasey

This year, Oliver admits he may have overseeded when it came to tossing out zinnia seeds, so he is removing stems that aren’t thriving. He waters twice a day and cuts zinnias to take to staff at St. Andrew’s Cathedral and to share with friends.

A beautiful garden yields its unexpected joy and that’s what Oliver has seen with the array of pink, red, purple, gold and orange zinnias that add a bright spot to the neighborhood.

“A lot of people stop and chat,” he said. “They’ll stop and talk about how much they enjoy seeing the zinnias.”