Charlotte Ferguson Murrell loved the outdoors — gardening, raising chickens and working on the tract of land, where she and her husband, George, raised their three children.
The former pediatric nurse also loved her coffee club of friends, close for more than 30 years.
When the 54-year-old Murrell died two years ago from colon cancer, some coffee club members decided, as a memorial, to spruce up the coffee service at the Baton Rouge General Pennington Cancer Center of Bluebonnet Boulevard, where the young wife and mother had spent many hours in treatment.
Then George Murrell designated the cancer center as a place where friends and family members could make donations in his wife’s memory.
The money poured in.
“It was unlike anything we have seen,” said Erik Showalter, president of the Baton Rouge General Foundation. “Contributions came from all over the country.”
That’s when the small, thoughtful project grew into a big, thought-filled project that patients and families will enjoy for many years to come.
“Our little coffee service project snowballed into a lovely healing garden,” said Leslie Gladney, who worked on the project with fellow coffee clubbers Pamela Gladney, Cheryl Kirchoff and Connie Miller.
The garden is nestled in a space between the buildings that house Pennington’s Infusion Center and the oncology waiting room at the Baton Rouge General Medical Center, just off Bluebonnet Boulevard.
A balm to the senses, the garden is filled with white and pink flowers including a Natchez crepe myrtle, sweet olives, boxwoods, hydrangeas, foxtail ferns, azaleas, Shi Shi camellias, yew and agapanthus, along with blooming annuals.
“The plan is to have something blooming year-round and something with a soft scent year-round,” Leslie Gladney said.
They’ve even given the tranquil spot a name.
“Charlotte was a farm girl, so we decided to call the garden ‘The Farm,'” Leslie Gladney said.
Personal touches from family and friends give the space warmth and character.
For a fountain, the Murrell family donated an antique sugar kettle from their Bayou Goula home, Tally-Ho, where family has lived for generations.
George Murrell also gave an antique bell from his home for a bell tower designed by Leslie Gladney and made of cypress beams by her brother, Windy Gladney, with help from Bill Johnson, a friend from Natchez, Mississippi, where Charlotte Murrell grew up.
When patients finish their chemotherapy, they step outside to ring the bell.
Getting that bell and sugar kettle in place wasn’t easy.
Because the garden is located in a closed-in area between buildings, it was impossible to move the kettle and tower through the entrance to the center. To the rescue came friends from Turner Industries who sent cranes on two separate occasions to raise them over a building and put them down into the garden.
Charlotte Murrell’s parents and siblings, the Pap Ferguson family from Natchez, provided a meditation circle with brick seating.
Dr. Gerald Miletello, an oncology specialist at the Pennington Cancer Center and a talented woodworker, crafted a birdhouse that looks like the Murrells’ church, St. James Episcopal.
Family members and friends donated eight teak benches where patients and family can sit and absorb the garden’s healing sights and fragrance.
Teri LeBlanc and Maria Darden were instrumental in getting donations for the garden from families from Episcopal High, where George Murrell and the Murrells’ three children attended school, and Lisa Wood Smith, of Natchez, reached out to Charlotte Murrell’s hometown friends.
The Pennington Family Foundation matched two-to-one the contributions, which, with the in-kind and monetary donations, exceeded $1 million.
The garden plan came together under the guidance of Wanda Chase, of Imahara Landscaping, with Phil Moser, of Philip Moser Associates, constructing the hardscaping elements — wheelchair-accessible concrete walkways, brick seating, a fountain and lighting.
Family members are in awe of the four women who spearheaded the project and touched by the generosity of so many friends.
“It is such a tremendous honor for Charlotte that they did this,” George Murrell said. “They pitched in and brought this thing to life.
“Now, Charlotte keeps on giving.”