Golden Agers: For the love of gardening

GREEN THUMB: For the past four years, Asheville resident Glenn Jolappa has given back to his community by creating a series of gardens in his apartment complex. Photo by Carol Kaufman

A small clump of bright red sweet williams is what caught Glenn Jolappa’s attention in 2020, just after moving into his new apartment a few blocks east of downtown Asheville.

With a longtime passion for gardening, Jolappa was amazed that these lovely flowers were thriving in such poor soil, among twisted vines and thorny weeds.

“I found out that a tenant had tossed out a broken pot of soil and sweet william onto this part of the bank,” says Jolappa. “I figured if sweet william could grow here, why not create a small garden in this spot.”

With the management’s permission, Jolappa set about creating a miniature experimental garden.

Four years later, Jolappa has transformed a roughly 400-foot stretch of soil, nestled between a wild-growth forest and a parking lot, into several lush gardens, rows of flowering shrubs, small trees and even a bubbling water fountain — all done with his own money and muscle power.

Jolappa will celebrate his 74th birthday this month. He notes that he relocated to the 168-unit complex after he and his husband divorced and sold their Kenilworth home. The former couple previously lived in Anchorage, Alaska, where Jolappa worked as a mail carrier for 31 years. Unfortunately, a series of bad falls on hard ice resulted in various surgeries, causing him permanent disabilities.

“I moved to Asheville 15 years ago — doctor’s orders,” he says with a grin. “He advised that I get far away from ice and snow.”

A North Carolina native, Jolappa was born into a military family in Fort Bragg, so moving to Asheville felt like coming home.

“Asheville was still fairly affordable at the time,” he says, “and an area we’d been eyeing, not only for its natural beauty but for its openness toward gay people.”

While Jolappa was busy selling their Anchorage home, his then-husband made an offer on a home in Kenilworth, which required tons of work. Jolappa arrived, sight unseen, and tackled some needed renovations, then moved on to his favorite project: beautifying the outdoors.

“Gardening is my spiritual practice,” says Jolappa. “It’s a solo act where I can tune into the quiet, the bird sounds, get my hands in the soil and concentrate on the plants’ needs.”

When he isn’t walking his dog, Sadie, having coffee with a friend, hiking or playing cribbage, Jolappa can be found planting, hauling, unloading, digging, pruning or watering his plants — all despite his physical challenges.

“Gardening causes me pain,” he says. “Especially working on steep terrain. But for me, it’s worth it. I’ve tumbled a few times, but I’m learning to tuck and roll with it.

“No other place I know of would grant me this opportunity. As long as I can afford to stay here, I will.”

Editor’s note: Golden Agers is a monthly feature that explores local residents who are retired or semiretired but remain active in the community. 


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About Carol Kaufman
Human interest writer living in Asheville.

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