Shep Slater planted pink begonias honoring the fight against breast cancer.
Shep Slater planted pink begonias honoring the fight against breast cancer.

Neighbors know Shep Slater’s flowers. They’re the bright blooms at the corner of High Point Road and Windsor Parkway that grow into symbols.

His flower garden has produced a peace sign. It’s shown a six-pointed star. This summer, it’s growing a pink ribbon of 270 or so begonias that honors the fight against breast cancer.

“Kids with their parents drive by and wonder what I’m putting in next,” Slater said, grinning and not telling.

Slater’s corner garden got its start a dozen or so years ago as a flowering heart.

In the beginning, Slater needed a girlfriend. He’d just moved into a house at 606 High Point and he decided to employ flowers on his corner lot to let the world know of his need for female companionship.

“I put a red begonia heart out there and above the heart I put a sign that said ‘girlfriend wanted,’” he said.

It worked. People noticed.

Drivers blew horns and waved. After a while, someone stole Slater’s sign so he put up another. Whoever it was kept stealing the sign and he kept replacing it. “I finally had to chain it to a tree,” he said.

Potential girlfriends noticed, too. He set up a “girlfriend wanted” website and, at one point, was getting emailed by potential girlfriends from all over.

One of Slater’s designs.

A local TV station put him on its evening news report. That led to reports on other TV stations and radio stations from across the country. “It just blew way out of proportion,” he said.

They called from stations as far away as Hawaii, he said. Some offered to set him up on blind dates. He actually agreed to go on a blind date set up by a radio station in Boise, Idaho, he said. He had to pay for his own air fare. The station paired him with a woman who called into a contest line to see a George Strait concert and they went together, even though “I hate country,” he said.

“It was fun,” he said. “They couldn’t have been any nicer. Would I do it again? Probably not.”

His girlfriend hunts are behind him now, but people remember. “I can still walk out in my yard and people stop and ask if I still need a girlfriend,” he said.

For the record, he doesn’t. He’s married. And he changes the symbol his flower garden yields every six months or so. Once, he planted the garden in the shape of the number 26.2, the mileage in a marathon, to honor his wife’s running, he said.

Working with the corner flower garden inspired him. Now the rest of his lot is covered with hydrangeas, flowers and decorative trees. He’s built a pond that attracts frogs and dragonflies and other animals. “It’s amazing how much wildlife you get when you put in a pond,” he said. “Things just show up on their own.”

Slater worked for a while as a stand-up comic. He said he traveled the country playing clubs and telling jokes. He at times appeared onstage dressed in a shower curtain. But he didn’t feel comfortable living on the road and felt he’d never make enough money as a comic. “That’s a hard life,” he said.

So he came home. Now he makes his living, he said, doing the same job he had when he was 10 years old. He mows lawns. His calls his company “We Cut Grass.”

“I used to do full-scale landscape installation,” he said, “but now, since I work alone, I just cut grass. ‘We Cut Grass,’ that pretty much sums it up. If I tell somebody that I cut grass, they say, “Oh, you’re in the landscaping business.’ If I tell them I’m a landscaper, they say, ‘Oh, you cut grass.’ … It’s just me. I should probably change [the company name] to ‘Me Cut Grass.’ But that would be bad grammar, wouldn’t it?”

And when he’s not cutting grass, he plants flowers. To make symbols.

And people still notice.

“It’s amazing how many people enjoy it,” he said. “It brings so much pleasure to me to get feedback from the people that drive by and enjoy it. Some guy today said I was, in his mind, the blessing of the neighborhood because he enjoys looking at the flowers so much.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.