Q&A: Maria Compere, Co-founder of the Knoxville Green Association

Co-founder of the Knoxville Green Association, Compere now serves as its beautification chair and has planned a sale of $1 perennials July 9 and 10 to benefit association projects such as an annual bulb giveaway and an edible garden for the Knox County Women's Detention Center.

How did Knoxville Green come to be?

My husband and I and some of our friends felt that we needed to make available to the community—especially to the schools, churches, civic centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and neighborhoods—beautiful plants. In order to beautify a community, everybody needs to do his or her share. If we helped out with the bulbs and plants and trees for free or for a fraction of what they would have to pay locally, many hands would be doing the work.

When was this?

About 30 years ago. Back then, I was a member of a group from the Deane Hill Garden Club that helped take down this horrible cyclone fence around West Town Mall, graded the area, and had the trash-filled ditches culverted. And then I took it upon myself to plant trees on nearby Montvue Road and also Ray Mears Boulevard—quanson cherries, Bradford pears, japonicas. That happened 20-some years ago; each year, we'd do another little piece. We planted all the sugar maples on the north side of West Town Mall. They are very big and beautiful now.

And more recently?

I initiated and have been responsible for the landscaping of Pellissippi Parkway.

With all those daffodils?

That's right—we have planted 1.7 million bulbs I believe, although the soil is very, very poor in there.

Who works with you?

North Knox County's association has always been our partner, the city provides some funding from the Recreation Department every year, and the state has always been very helpful. And the bulb farmers have always been very gracious and generous, although they don't know me or Knoxville or Tennessee, they still reach out to us to help. Last year, they gave us a huge donation, more than $200,000 of beautiful bulbs at the wholesale price. Many private individuals work with us, and the prisoners from the Northern Correctional Facility, that used to be Brushy Mountain, and women from the county jail. It turns out they are the best workers, , and the women are very nice to me. I give them consideration and respect. It just happens they are in jail and I am not.

Tell more about this plant sale.

We will have a number of exotic, exquisite lillies that ordinarily sell for much more than the $1 we will charge, and all kinds of daisies, hostas, irises, cannas, astilbes, dahlias, and geraniums. There will also be raspberry plants, strawberry plants, and grape vines. If we sell about $17,000 in plants that will give us enough money to buy bulbs for Pellissippi and our giveaway in January. We also give daffodil bulbs to schools that apply for them, and we've also given native trees in containers to 79 schools that wanted them. There's a lot of work involved, but anyone we can help, we do.

Part of the money goes to the county women's detention center?

We have always donated plants for their garden, but for these new gardens, we gave them plants for fresh berries and grape vines—in large numbers. The University of Tennessee is going to try to develop a teaching program for the women, with lessons in horticulture and a certificate. We wanted the women to learn a saleable skill.

The Knoxville Green Association will host a perennial plant sale this Saturday, July 9, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday, July 10, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (2931 Kingston Pike). Plants for sun and shade are $1 apiece.