Volunteers create Healing Garden just days after Las Vegas shooting

Volunteers built a path that winds through the tupelo trees at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden as a result of the tragic mass shooting that happened on Oct. 1, 2017

LAS VEGAS — The City Attorney’s staff tried to work Monday morning in the hours after the deadliest mass shooting in modern history killed one of their own. The absence of Cameron Robinson, a legal records specialist, was palpable.

They needed a place of peace.

But they were in Las Vegas, a city where squares of concrete threaten to outnumber blades of grass. Everywhere within walking distance would be too loud to think, too bright to process the chaos of 59 people shot dead in a single night. There was nowhere to go.

Then Jay Pleggenkuhle called the office. As the owner of Stonerose Landscapes, Pleggenkuhle had spent the morning trying to decide how a landscaper could break through a city’s grief. He could only think of a garden.

“A garden is a source of life,” Pleggenkuhle said. “It brings people peace.”.

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The city offered a quarter-acre of land that had been set aside for a dog park. Pleggenkuhle sketched a garden on a napkin and, before noon, donations had started streaming in for the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden.

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A local nursery donated 59 tupelo trees to line the stone pathway that would carve through the garden. Another nursery offered shrubs and smaller trees to create a patch of green unmatched in Las Vegas. Famed magicians Siegfried and Roy donated a thick oak tree to stand in the center, surrounded by a planter in the shape of a heart.

More than a thousand people offered time, money or materials. Volunteers built up a path that winds through the tupelo trees at a slight incline, because Pleggenkuhle wanted people to ascend above the city. They built a curl of wood paneling and hung dozens of brown paper tags for people to leave notes.

“One of the main intentions in doing this garden project wasn’t necessarily the end result, but just the process,” Pleggenkuhle said. “Bringing the community together to work together and to do something that would create joy and beauty instead of destruction.”.

One University of Nevada-Las Vegas student brought his entire fraternity to help. A man drove his crane in from California, planted a tree, and then drove it home. Two Buddhist monks arrived just after sunrise one morning, knelt in the dirt and prayed. Then they left to donate blood, and came back to touch each tree.

Four days after the shooting, there is little sadness in Pleggenkuhle’s patch of green. The garden sits almost five miles from the Las Vegas Strip, surrounded by quiet in a corner of the Arts District. The city’s casinos are in sight from the street, but inside the garden, trees block the view.

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The Community Healing Garden will open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday night. Volunteers will lay out small pieces of ceramic tile and jars of paint, encouraging people walking past to paint them however they like. Then Pleggenkuhle will have the tiles fired, and sometime next week he’ll come back and affix the tiles to the heart-shaped planter in the center of the garden, just to put the pieces back together.

Follow Alden Woods on Twitter: @ac_woods.

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