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Garden guru: Red Bay Mayor Charlene Fancher shares her happy place

FRANKLIN LIVING—“Do I really have time? No – I’m very busy – but I make time for it because this is my stress reliever.”

Day in and day out, Red Bay Mayor Charlene Fancher can be found handling city business, from directing employees to promoting economic development to tackling municipal problems. When she needs a break from the hurry and scurry of managing the many aspects of Red Bay, she looks no further than her own backyard, where vibrant plants and flowers flourish under her tender care. “It’s a hobby for me. I love it. I like to watch things grow – whether it’s the city or plants.”

Fancher cultivated her love for gardening from her mother, who “can grow anything.” Fancher has vivid memories of clipping the grass and weeds around her childhood home as a 9-year-old – the chore from which her love of yard work began. “I love to work outside and dig in the dirt. I’m a do-it-yourselfer; I like to make something out of nothing.”

That love led her to a group of like-minded ladies in 2008, when Fancher attended her first meeting of the Red Bay Garden Club at the invitation of Rosalyn Fabianke. “I will never forget the feeling I had at that meeting. All these ladies are so smart, and their yards are just beautiful. They were just rattling off names of plants, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. I will never learn all this.’ I was so intimidated,” Fancher said. Despite her intimidation, however, she joined the club and has been an active member ever since. “I fell in love with it that day. I just wanted to learn more.”

At that time, Fancher was just starting her first term as a city councilmember. Now, 11 years later, she’s mayor of Red Bay – and president of the Garden Club. “It’s a civic club I have enjoyed being a part of because I have learned so much,” said Fancher, who spent the summer preparing for her presidential duties. The club’s program year begins each September, so for the past several months she has worked on the club yearbook, which details plans and activities for the program year. She’ll start by hosting the first meeting of 2019-2020, inviting the 20 active club members to her home to kick off the club’s monthly meetings – held every second Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m.

Fancher said she feels well-positioned as mayor to also take on the responsibilities of Garden Club president because the city and the club work on so many projects together; many of her duties for each go hand in hand. “The club has done so much for Red Bay that people don’t even realize,” Fancher added. The group has an 81-year legacy of planting trees, removing litter, beautifying public areas and conserving wildlife. In addition, they don’t just grow plants and flowers; they also grow friendships. The members spend time actively recruiting others to join their cause, men as well as women. “You’re going to end up falling in love with it, and you’re going to see how much more you’re going to love your flower gardens just by learning so much more,” Fancher said. “I have learned so much from these ladies in 11 years; it’s unbelievable.”

The club’s annual April plant sale is a highlight for Fancher. “The majority of my plants in this yard came from the plant sale, or we dig in each other’s yards – we share,” she explained. “It’s so nice to plant and stand back, watch it grow and think, ‘I did this.’ It’s your own ideas, and it makes it more meaningful when you do it yourself.”

Although Fancher finds gardening to be her stress relief, a passion she is determined to find time for, it isn’t always easy. “There are times it’s tedious. I think, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I creating more work for myself?’ I keep adding to, or changing, or adding more plants to water or dig. Anytime you add something, you have to maintain it.” Despite the challenges, however, the enjoyment she derives from the process and the outcome makes it all worth it. “It’s worth it because it is my quiet time. It is my time alone. When you’re alone and you’re digging in the dirt, it takes your mind off of other things … It can be spiritual, too. You can do a lot of praying in the quiet when you’re digging.”

Among her many plants and flowers, Fancher takes particular pride in the red Angel Wing begonias brightening her window boxes and the Yellow Rose of Texas that stands prominent alongside the garden shed.

Pride, in fact, is a big part of what it’s all about.

“When you have a beautiful city, that means your city is full of pride,” Fancher said. “When we have visitors come in, I want them to say, ‘Wow, look at this city. It is beautiful. It’s clean, it’s pretty,’ – I want everybody to be proud of Red Bay.”