Though not an official Surry Arts Council production, “The Mystery of the Butchered Bushes” has been solved with a revelation that a city commissioner undertook unannounced pruning work there which she says had been “neglected.”
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley began that task Tuesday morning on the grounds of the arts organization, where the Andy Griffith Playhouse is located along with a museum dedicated to the late actor.
Brinkley said she decided to do so after touring the site Monday to check on the progress of numerous projects there and was “appalled” to notice a number of dead plants and shrubbery needing to be trimmed.
“I am a staunch advocate of the Surry Arts Council,” she explained. “In my opinion, it looked like the pruning had been neglected.”
However, viewpoints differed Wednesday as to whether the impromptu operation accomplished more bad than good.
The situation became public through an email to The Mount Airy News from David Sheppard, a West Pine Street resident who titled his message “Butchered bushes outside Andy Griffith Playhouse.”
Sheppard related how he and an unidentified party had gone on an evening walk Tuesday along a route that typically takes them by the playhouse. “We love to see the beautiful landscaping there, which often gives us ideas for our own yard,” Sheppard wrote.
“We were shocked this evening to see that many of the lovely roses, hollies and viburnums had been butchered and the debris carelessly tossed about,” he added.
“Being avid gardeners ourselves, we knew that it is not common practice to prune, much less butcher, flowering plants and shrubs during a heat wave and severe drought situation. We would like to know what happened and hope that the paper can shed some light on this unfortunate situation.”
That was accomplished Wednesday morning when it was revealed that Brinkley had done the work after visiting the Surry Arts Council site on Monday.
Along with dead plants, Brinkley said she noticed overgrown bushes that were blocking visitors’ views of the area. “I thought, ‘My gosh, people won’t be able to see this — it needs to be trimmed down.’”
While the Surry Arts Council provides programming at the playhouse and operates the Andy Griffith Museum, the city government is responsible for the upkeep of the buildings and landscaping, with the latter function handled by municipal personnel led by Michella Huff. She is the city’s grounds maintenance supervisor and oversees the various floral displays and planters located around town.
Tanya Jones, the council’s executive director, said Wednesday that pruning and similar operations at the arts complex normally are performed by the city landscaping staff, usually by Mayberry Days in late September when tourists flood the grounds.
Yet the museum and other attractions also see heavy visitation at this time of the year, Jones said Wednesday while standing on a sidewalk where piles of debris remained from the pruning effort and stumps were sticking from the ground.
“It needed to be done,” she added of the work subsequently tackled by Brinkley after her Monday visit to the site.
“I thought, ‘What’s wrong with me going over there and doing some trimming work and cleaning out some bushes that are dead?”’ said Brinkley. The commissioner quickly pointed out that she wasn’t trying to make any statement about the work of the landscaping crew headed by Huff.
“I have nothing against anybody — Michella does a bang-up job — the city always looks welcoming and beautiful,” Brinkley said of her crew’s efforts. “Michella does an outstanding job in the city.”
“This is not a reflection on jobs not getting done,” the commissioner continued while highlighting why she took it upon herself to undertake the work. “But I just thought I could help by doing some of it.”
The South Ward commissioner who is serving her second four-term term acknowledged that her landscaping capabilities are limited. “I have no experience except for around my house.”
Brinkley began the task at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday and continued until 9 a.m., when she said Huff arrived on the scene and was “surprised” to see her working — with Brinkley saying her response to Huff was that she does tend to surprise people.
“She asked, ‘What exactly are you doing?”’ the commissioner related regarding her conversation with the grounds maintenance supervisor.
Huff said Wednesday that the pruning/clearing operation by Brinkley came as a surprise to her.
“No one knew it was going to happen,” the grounds maintenance supervisor said, listing city landscaping and public works crews and personnel of the Surry Arts Council. “It was not a scheduled or known-about event that was supposed to happen.”
Huff mentioned that her first knowledge of the work came when she visited the site Tuesday morning and by then, 25 to 30 plants had been cut down.
“It was very disappointing to see something my staff had put in so many years and hours working on” cut to the ground, she said.
“I’m a plant lover, so that was tough for me to see.”
When asked Wednesday if she had arrived at any monetary figure for damages, Huff said she had not at that point, but would be working on one later in the day.
Brinkley defends work
The city commissioner contends that what she did improved the site.
“The one thing that can be said is it cannot be any worse than the dead bushes I cut out,” said Brinkley who mentioned that she is willing to pay for any damage determined to have been caused.
“What I did improved the appearance more than worsened it,” she stressed regarding her effort that among other things will allow the Surry Arts Council facilities to be visible to visitors to the city.
“You can see the buildings now — the tourists can see the buildings.”
Brinkley said she is willing to pay for any damage determined to have been caused.
Jones, the Surry Arts Council official, said Wednesday that she also was surprised by what Brinkley had done, but stopped short of any criticism of the effort or making any assessment about damages. “We are continuing to look forward to getting things spruced up as we were before this process,” she said.
“The arts council is very appreciative of Shirley’s advocacy for us,” Jones added.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.