For Bess McCall, flowers are for cheering up a sick friend. For giving to your mother on her birthday. For planting in pots on the back porch, so your family can watch on from the dining room window as birds alight. And, not least of all, flowers are for making your hometown all the more beautiful.
Most Travelers Rest residents need no introduction to Bess. After all, she’s wife to former mayor Wayne McCall.
She’s also an insurance agent with Stokes-Farnham, as well as one of the founding members of volunteer organization Let’s Keep TR Beautiful.
Meanwhile, at home — besides being a wife and mother — Bess is a gardener.
Plants grow on seemingly every corner of the McCalls’ property: along the main walkway, down a hill just beside the house, and throughout the front and back yards — even inside the bathtub at the far right perimeter.
One day, as Bess was passing the first house her parents lived in together, she noticed the tub sitting out on the lawn. When she contacted the owner, who was renovating the place, he said she could take it.
Bess moved the rusting tub to her backyard, painted it a bright red, and planted matching red impatiens inside.
But this unlikely flower pot certainly isn’t the only thing in her garden that she can credit to her parents. She can attribute her green thumb to them, too. Caring for plants was a natural part of growing up with them — a passion they instilled in her from an early age.
Still, she didn’t do much of it until after her first marriage. Her husband’s work had taken them from Hawaii to Nashville to a few spots in between. But out on her own again, Bess settled into a little house in Travelers Rest and started tinkering more than ever with gardening, especially perennials.
“It’s my peace,” Bess says, explaining that gardening allows her to take her mind off of every worry.
She spends much time in the peaceful confines of her garden, which is filled with white moonflowers, red-painted ferns, pink cat’s whiskers, multi-colored zinnias, and other bright blooms. She weaves through them effortlessly, calling each by its name.
To her, they’re for cutting and taking to share with others, or digging up to plant in someplace that needs new life.
In 2010, Bess decided that’s exactly what she wanted to do for Travelers Rest — to use her flowers to make the town more beautiful.
One of her first projects was the pocket park behind The Café at Williams Hardware. Although Greenville Rec owned the land, they didn’t have the finances to complete their master plan for the park.
So Bess took matters into her own hands. Following their designs as best she could, while also adding her own personal touches, she completed the park with Siberian irises, gardenia bushes, and black-eyed Susans.
“A lot of that, I dug up from my yard,” she says.
She didn’t stop there.
Bess also became involved in Keep Greenville County Beautiful and worked to earn Travelers Rest a grant for cigarette receptacles to place outside of businesses throughout town, in order to help eliminate cigarette waste on the streets and sidewalks.
Her mission to make Travelers Rest look better eventually culminated in the formation of Let’s Keep TR Beautiful. Like Bess herself, the local group aims to make Travelers Rest a more enjoyable place to live through a variety of beautification efforts.
Let’s Keep TR Beautiful may be best known for its annual city-wide cleanup in early May. But the group’s at work throughout the year, too. Members hit the town on a regular basis, picking up litter along the city’s sidewalks and the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Each month, Let’s Keep TR Beautiful also gives out one Beautification Award, recognizing a local business that has improved its space.
And, most recently, the group won a grant for the Before I Die walls that were placed in Buncombe Road Park. The walls allowed residents and visitors to share their dreams and hopes on large chalkboards in the center of downtown.
But her gardening projects remain closest to Bess’ heart. Since the group’s formation, she’s also added flowers and other plants around City Hall and at entrance signs on either end of Travelers Rest.
“I want our town to be beautiful so people can enjoy it, be proud of it,” Bess says, sitting at her kitchen table and watching the hummingbirds fly just outside.
According to Gallup research, she adds, beauty is one of the top three reasons that people become attached to their local communities.
And then she pulls out a magazine article that she printed years ago. She’s held onto the small stack of stapled papers because the words echo her feelings about gardening.
“‘Gardening is an act of kindness, even love. The thought and labor of one person — the gardener — benefits others who invested none,’” she reads aloud.
In a moment of self-realization, she looks up and smiles.
“I can get out and plant, and it benefits everyone.”
For more information about Let’s Keep TR Beautiful, visit the group’s Facebook page.
Photo Credits: All images — Celeste Hawkins