Along the South Loading Dock at Crosstown Concourse, hundreds of visitors each day pass by mini horticultural installations, housed inside repurposed, industrial, aqua-colored hoppers, salvaged from the building’s Sears distribution days.
Chris and Stephanie Cosby, the couple behind local garden/landscape consulting business Plants + People, intentionally filled those hoppers with plant life designed to mimic a Mid-South woodland.
“Some have weeping maple trees, and then there are little grasses and foliage plants,” says Stephanie Cosby. “It creates this natural, Shelby County vibe of a forest park setting.”
The Cosby’s garden installations are located all over Crosstown Concourse, and most are designed to pay tribute to the county’s natural areas. In the Canyon (the parking area between the garage and the building), planters mimic native grasslands with blue stem and milkweed. Just outside Madison Pharmacy, the Cosbys planted medicinal herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage, fennel, thyme, and anise hyssop in a raised bed. On the North Plaza, in front of Crosstown Theater, the couple opted for a local neighborhood feel.
“We were trying to bring the front yards around Crosstown Concourse into that space, bringing a neighborhood vibe of grass and trees and tiny shrubs,” Stephanie says. “We’re trying to create spaces that felt natural to balance out the concrete that’s everywhere.”
Chris, who worked at the Memphis Botanic Garden for a decade before launching Plants + People, is the plantsman, says Stephanie. She’s a visual artist, who began working with plants in her installations several years ago. The couple has been designing garden scapes in the Crosstown neighborhood years before Concourse was revitalized.
They started by doing plant installations at the old Cleveland Street Flea Market, and that eventually grew to include planters all along the Cleveland Street strip that housed Crosstown Arts, the HiTone, and other local businesses.
Stephanie said she approached Concourse co-leader Todd Richardson about doing some garden installations for Concourse when it opened, and Richardson suggested they repurpose Sears artifacts for planters.
“Chris and I went to their warehouse and started looking at stuff plants could grow in. So that’s where the hoppers came in,” Stephanie said.
The couple also repurposed some Cold War-era Department of Defense survival supply steel drums (provided to fallout shelters for water storage or to be used as an emergency commode) for planters along the South Loading dock and throughout the building. Those fallout shelter drums, as well as some unmarked large red steel drums were salvaged from Sears, which was a designated fallout shelter. The Cosbys used the red drums as planters outside the Parcels leasing office on the seventh floor.
A more recent landscaped addition to Concourse is the meditation garden on the west side of the campus, near Crosstown Brewing Co. That space is jointly managed by Church Health, Big Green (Next Door restaurateur Kimbal Musk’s school gardening initiative), Crosstown High, and the Memphis Garden Club. Ritchie Smith Associates, a local landscape architecture firm, handled the landscaping for that project.
“The vision started with Church Health as a place where the Crosstown community and people from the neighborhood could come together. It’s one of the few green spaces on the campus,” says Smith. “It’s greatly enhanced by the presence of two mature oak trees that are about 100 years old. It gives the space scale, shade, and comfort.”
Landscape architect Lissa Thompson, also with Ritchie Smith Associates, says they did have to remove a couple trees that were not in good health, but they added native Mid-South plants to the garden area. And there’s more to come.
“There are a few gateway pieces that the Memphis Garden Club will be installing on the side by the parking deck,” says Thompson. “There will be two nice metal sculptural elements that you’ll pass through on that side as you come into the garden. That will give you more separation from the parking and will mark the entrance to the green space.”
Students from Crosstown High, through their partnership with Big Green, maintain the raised garden beds at the meditation garden. Students planted their first vegetables and herbs in the planters last spring, using seeds provided by Big Green, and they continue to maintain the beds as part of Big Green’s curriculum.
Big Green offers free native seedlings to partner schools. In Shelby County, those seedlings, which include root vegetables, greens, peas, herbs, and flowers, are procured by local farms One Wheel Market Garden and the Alpha Omega Veterans Services urban farm.