Plant the Parkways initiative beautifies medians and brings together neighbors


For many, the commuter arteries of North, South and East Parkway are the links to the four corners of Memphis.

Once known as the “flowering trail,” the medians along these thoroughfares are generally swaths of green dominated by familiar towering oaks.

The Parkway system was designed in 1915 by George Kessler. The renowned landscape architect also designed Overton Park and most notably, he designed New York City’s Central Park.

To add diversity – and a little pop – volunteers working through Volunteer Memphis have begun planting new flowering trees along these green spaces. A $225,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation will fund half of the planned 1,000 new trees along the Parkways’ 8.5 miles of medians.

“With our Plant the Parkways project, we are partnering with Memphis City Beautiful to plant flowering trees over at the Parkways. Our goal is to have about 500 trees planted in this first phase of it,” said Andrea Hill, director of Volunteer Memphis.

Related: "Urban forest I: Push to plant 4M trees in Memphis promises natural health benefits"

In the lead up to the plantings, the Memphis Tree Board conducted a tree survey along with volunteers from the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council and Shelby County 4-H Youth Development. Volunteers mapped existing trees along the century-old Parkways and identified each variety. They measured trunk diameters to determine the age of the tree. Those in poor shape were removed while others are being monitored.

“Once we received the grant, we started hosting a number of community meetings to see where everybody was, what stakeholders we would have that would participate and help us with focus groups and the planning for the trees to go across the Parkways,” said Hill.

Volunteers at a 2018 planting day for Plant the Parkways. (Submitted)

Additional meetings followed with residents and a plan was laid out for the community. Landscape architect Ritchie Smith Associates came on as a partner along with Allworld Project Management.

“Now, we are working with LSG [Landscape Services Group], who is helping us as a contractor to place the trees, to purchase trees for us, purchase the mulch and help us with planting areas volunteers can’t plant,” said Hill.

While the intent is to add color and vibrancy to the greenscape, the civic project also has the ancillary benefit of connecting the community.

“We are looking at different community associations, individuals that live on the Parkways, individuals that traverse the Parkways. What’s been so great about it is we’ve had young people from the Boys and Girls Club participating who knew nothing about trees or planting. They’ve learned from our partners, our planting leaders who are experts,” said Hill.

Memphis Tree Board and Tennessee Urban Forestry Council are acting as “plant leaders,” lending professional guidance to volunteers.

Additionally, Christian Brothers students recently worked on landscaping improvements along East Parkway adjacent to their campus. This, however, is not connected with Plant the Parkways.

“All the trees that we have planted have green and white metal stakes around them and are starting to bud now,” Hill added.

So far, five plantings have been done. Upwards of 50 to 75 volunteers generally show up. Teams are tasked with planting 12 to 18 trees along with mulching and staking to help protect the new greenery.

“We may have a group of ten that go across the Parkways planting the trees, educating each other on the trees, communicating with each other and learning things about each other — bringing communities together around planting trees. It’s been an awesome opportunity,” said Hill.

Recently, it was reported around ten trees were stolen from a March 2 planting on South Parkway. The loss is estimated at $1,000. Additional funding will be sought for the 500 trees yet to be planted. The remaining gaps along the Parkways will be filled in during the second phase.

“Each planting is a different section of the Parkway. In our first three plantings from March 2, 3 and 17, we covered all of South Parkway,” said Hill.

East Parkway was covered on April 28 and North Parkway will be tackled with the last planting of this phase on May 5.

Anyone interested in lending a hand can register online at

“Right now, it’s looking beautiful, but we want to make it even more so. We’ll continue to reach out to find additional funders, community groups and people who are interested in the project,” said Hill.

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