Seeds and soil and hanging baskets are waiting for Betty Reaves in the greenhouse at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
When she arrives in her motor home in early April, Ridgecrest’s master gardener will rev up her John Deere Gator and tour more than 100 acres, evaluating what winter has done to the gardens and making lists for her volunteers.
Soon she’ll have the volunteers pulling weeds, spreading mulch and making the grounds into a magnificent testimony at the LifeWay conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“We try to make our gardens point only to God’s glorious creation,” she says, “and we try to have things blooming all the time.”
Betty Reaves, master gardener at the Ridgecrest, tends to “God’s glorious creation” by propagating seeds, nurturing plants and growing flowers with the help of volunteers at the LifeWay Christian Resources conference center in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.
Gardening at Ridgecrest is a second career for Reaves, who retired nearly 20 years ago from Georgia Southern University. She and her husband George enjoyed traveling and volunteering together at Ridgecrest and other conference centers – she in the gardens, he in woodworking – until he died in 2006.
“When he was no longer here, I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I looked for a job and people told me I was too old.”
But Ridgecrest knew her gardening talent and invited her to join the staff, working from April until November each year. In winter she lives in Georgia near her children and grandchildren, with side trips to volunteer in other places, such as the Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Florida. By April, she’ll park her motor home in the campground at Ridgecrest and begin propagating seeds, nurturing plants and growing flowers.
“Ridgecrest has such a long, rich history of being a place where people’s lives are changed,” Reaves says. “We try to keep it eye-appealing so people will know God’s love is everywhere – we can see it in the landscaping.”
Her work saves Ridgecrest thousands of dollars, grounds crew leader James Shook says. Instead of purchasing costly plants from a nursery, she cultivates seeds and cuttings gathered from her own home or from acquaintances. She relocates displaced plants rather than discarding them. She requested a greenhouse to shelter plants in winter and nurture seedlings in spring.
“She’ll also find bushes out in the woods around campus, and she’ll put them in pots until they’re big enough to use in the landscaping,” Shook says. “It takes a lot of time to do that, and you have to know what you’re doing.”
Reaves had to learn new gardening techniques because of the climate differences between Ridgecrest, amid North Carolina’s mountains, and her native south Georgia, where she learned to garden from her father and grandmother.
With an intensive horticulture course in North Carolina, Reaves earned certification as a master gardener. She also met Beth Anderson, who now works part-time alongside Reaves at Ridgecrest. They jokingly call themselves the Grounds girls – Betty Grounds and Beth Grounds.
Reaves’ joy in life is irrepressible, Anderson says. She walks around campus wearing big straw hats garnished with colorful ribbons, which also decorate her office walls. She jokes about Shook as their “bossy little brother.” She charms volunteers into cheerfully tackling tough work.
But her sense of fun is blended with determination, facilities manager Daniel Redding says. “She’s a go-getter. If she’s trying to get something accomplished and waiting on answers from the powers that be, she’ll keep coming back until she gets her answer.”
Reaves and Anderson have begun offering occasional tours of the Ridgecrest gardens and are working to develop a self-guided tour so more people can participate. They’re excited about a new Crown of Thorns plant they’ve added to the greenhouse, which they plan to highlight for Easter.
And in August, Reaves will turn 80 – a number she finds hard to fathom.
“You know, I don’t feel 80,” she says. “But I’m in very good health. I guess I’ll keep going until my body wears out or God calls me home. I’d like to go from Ridgecrest to glory.”
Meet Betty Reaves
Master gardener at Ridgecrest Conference Center
Home in winter: Statesboro, Ga.
Home in summer: Campground at Ridgecrest Conference Center from April to November
Before LifeWay: Retired in 1997 as secretary to vice president of Georgia Southern University
Family: Three children, seven grandchildren. Husband George died in 2006
On the side: Plays organ at First Baptist Church of Old Fort, N.C.
Garden glories: Can’t pick a favorite, but loves lots of color. “Let’s put zinnias and marigolds out!”
1,300 acres in them Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina
Can accommodate more than 2,000 guests at a time.
Hosts more than 64,000 guests each year
Offers housing, meeting space, recreation and food service for Christian conferences and events
Hosts summer camps for kids and teens, including Camp Ridgecrest for Boys and Camp Crestridge for Girls
Provides spiritual retreats and getaways for ministers, missionaries and families
On the Web at ridgecrestconferencecenter.org.
Volunteer at Ridgecrest
Ridgecrest Conference Center needs volunteers in a variety of areas, including carpentry, gardening, food service and hospitality. For more information, call 1-828- 669-3589 or visit ridgecrestconferencecenter.org/volunteer.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is managing editor of LifeLines, the employee magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)