It took just one plastic flower for a city project-turned-eyesore to become an inside joke for the thousands who travel Thermal Road every day.
“Plastic Paradise” is its name.
And if you’ve used the Monroe Road-to-Sardis Road cut-through any time over the last few months, you’ve probably seen it: A new median, a fresh pile of dirt and a smorgasbord of plastic flowers, flags, yard art, signs and thrift-store paraphernalia, all donated in the name of beautification.
The effort started in June, when the city of Charlotte built a small median at the corner of Thermal Road and Charter Place in Stonehaven.
The idea was to use landscaping at the three-way stop to slow drivers as they enter the main part of the neighborhood.
Eventually, the neighborhood plans to have a stone-mason build a nice sign.
But all that will come in November, when the weather is cool and the landscaping stands a chance of surviving.
In the meantime, it was just dirt – like a tomb for a tall, skinny man, one neighbor said.
Then came the accidents.
Cars started to run into the median, day and night. Some rode right over it.
Even a policeman hit the median once.
“I got tired of looking at it,” said Stonehaven resident Mark Love, whose home is on a diagonal to the intersection.
So one night, he grabbed a bunch of artificial orange mums from his kitchen and covertly stuck them in the middle of the mud in the median.
Soon enough, the solitary blooms had company: some daisies, pinwheels, a ficus tree, pink flamingo, solar tulips, American flags and a sign imploring people to add more. “Landscaping in November!” the sign reads. One passer-by added multicolored teardrop-shaped yard flags.
“Somebody had a couple margaritas and thought (those) would look good,” Love said, laughing.
Love said he has spotted dozens of people adding to the community art project and taking pictures. He even saw one woman stealing some of the flowers.
“There’s karma for stuff like that,” he said, smiling.
One of the Stonehaven neighborhood leaders, Michael Patterson, says feedback has been split down the middle: “Some say it’s like a trailer park, and some say it’s jovial, people stepping outside the box,” he said.
Personally, Patterson likes it. “It’s playful,” he said. “And temporary.”
In November, the city will plant tulip trees, roses, daylilies and a variety of other plants, Patterson said. The neighborhood will use the money raised from the annual Rolling Stonehaven 5K in October to maintain the median.
But for the time being, there’s entertainment.
Love’s neighbors Nancy and Jerry Altman live directly across from the free-for-all zone. Their house is on the market, and according to their realtor, several people who looked at the house commented on the median. Rarely was their feedback positive.
Nevertheless, Nancy Altman loves it. “It has gotten quite cute out there,” she said.
But last week she saw a city of Charlotte truck pull over by the median. Worried, she ran outside.
“You’re not going to pull the flowers up, are you?” she asked.
The men turned to look at her.
“Oh, no,” one replied. “We came to take some pictures of it.”