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One woman single handedly keeps downtown Rogersville in bloom

Jeff Bobo • Sep 20, 2016 at 9:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — There was quite a bit of local fanfare earlier this year when downtown Rogersville’s Courthouse Square was named a “must see” destination in Tennessee’s 2016 Official Vacation Guide.

Chalk that up to the town fathers who designed the square, and built and maintained the buildings over the course of nearly two centuries.

But, if there is one person in the modern era who deserves the lion’s share of credit for that honor, it would have to be Sandy Robillard.

She’s the Rogersville horticulturalist who single-handedly maintains all the landscaping and flower beds on Courthouse Square, as well as flower boxes along downtown Main street, the landscaping around the city’s “Welcome” signs on both ends of town, the floral hill on W. Main Street at the Rt. 66 off-ramp, and several flower beds inside the Rogersville City Park.

At the time the state Tourism “must see” honor was announced, it didn’t occur to Robillard that there might be a connection between that and her landscaping.

In retrospect, Robillard said she’s proud that her work might have had something to do with it.

“That would be nice, but I didn’t really know about it, to be honest,” she said. “It’s very nice that people are recognizing (downtown Rogersville). I’m not a person who brags on myself. It does make me feel very proud.”

Robillard has been doing landscape design for more than 36 years, the last 14 of which she has worked for the Rogersville Parks and Recreation Department.

Maintaining Rogersville flower beds is a big job for one person, and the really busy season is right around the corner.

Twice a year Robillard replaces about 3,000 flowers in preparation for the weather change.

The goal is to keep color in the flower beds year-around, which she has always managed to do.

“There are certain flowers that bloom it the hot weather and certain flowers that bloom in the cold weather,” she said. “I put out the cold weathers in the fall, like right now. I like to use violas because they continuously bloom and there’s not a lot of maintenance. I can put them in and get them started, and leave them throughout the winter. As soon as the cold weather is over, around March, I’ll give them good food and cut them back, and they just bust out.”

But violas don’t like the heat.

In May when the violas are getting ready to “peter out” she puts in the summer annuals.

“This year I used sun coleus, the dragon wing begonias, and the elephant ears,” she said. “Right now is very, very busy, just trying to keep up with the mowing, the weeding, and the watering, and switching everything out. Violas will bloom all winter long unless there’s an unusually terrible winter. They’re not gong to look great all winter long, but there will be some color out there. But then in the spring they’ll really pop.”

Robillard is originally from New York. She gained a love for gardening and horticulture from her sister, who she worked with right out of high school.

But, she never thought it would become a lifelong career.

“I farmed for many years,” she said. “That’s why we moved down here, because we bought a farm. I worked the farm, and when we got divorced I had to get a ‘real job’ — and I started working at the Farmers’ Co-Op. They put me out in the greenhouse, and then Park and Rec approached me to come work for them.”

She added, “I worked two years just in the park doing maintenance, and then the mayor graduated me out here into the flower beds.”

She admits that she takes a lot of pride in making downtown Rogersville look good.

There are several events throughout he year that attracted thousands of people to downtown Rogersville, including monthly summer Cruise-Ins, the Taste of Rogersville in May, parades at Christmas and the Fourth of July, and the annual Trunk-Or-Treat on Halloween.

And, the grand-daddy of downtown events — Rogersville Heritage Days — is only three weeks.

Tens of thousands of people crowd the streets of downtown Rogersville Oct. 14-16, and that’s when Robillard wants her work to really shine.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “I come down before events and make sure everything is mowed, weed-eated and cleaned up as much as possible for the events. A lot of people think I have it made because I work outside all day in flowers, but it’s a lot of hard work. That’s a misconception some people have.”

Robillard’s work life is an endless cycle of going from one flower bed to another. As a result, she’s probably the most visible person in Rogersville.

“Yesterday I went and pulled three places out, and now today I’m mowing downtown. Last week I was up on the hill (near the Rt. 66 off-ramp) planting that. I just have to keep it all straight in my mind.”

She added, “I do my best. I have a good work ethic, and I take pride in my work for sure. I get a lot of compliments, and a lot of people tell me that they appreciate my work, so I know people are noticing.”                                         

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