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East End AIDS garden gets spruced up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jason Adkins didn't go to bed until about 5 o'clock Saturday morning.

But by 10 a.m., Adkins was standing in the middle of a flowerbed sprucing up the Living AIDS Memorial Garden on Charleston's East End.

"I didn't realize there were so many weeds," he said, grabbing a handful while minding the Irises in bloom. "I'm trying to make sure I don't pick any flowers."

Friday night, Adkins had been named "Ms. Red Ribbon" at Broadway, a club on Leon Sullivan Way.

"I went dressed up as a big tree with flowers," he said, noting that helped him win the title, which makes him responsible for the garden's upkeep throughout the year.

Ralph Carr, Adkins' partner, stood in the garden too.

"It's a way to help pay tribute to the ones no longer here and pay tribute to the ones still surviving," Carr said.

"It's beautiful here," Adkins added. "There's a lot of meaning."

The small but lush garden located on the corner of Washington Street East and Sidney Street, is lined with bricks printed with names of those who have died from the disease or other illness.

"I see all the names, some of the bricks have messages on them, some are names of my friends," said Carl Maxwell.

Maxwell, one of the founders of the space, has been tending to the garden for about 15 years.

The place has a special meaning for him. In 1996, he lost four friends to AIDS.

"That was before the new drugs came out," he said, noting that now there are treatments to help reduce the disease's death rate.

Maxwell said during the cleanups, held every year in the fall and spring, new flowers are planted.

"We're going to fill this bed with all red flowers," he said, pointing to the bed closest to the road.

There are picnic tables and benches and the space is enclosed with a wrought iron fence. An underground irrigation system was added several years ago.

Maxwell encourages people to use the space to reflect and enjoy the flowers -- he tries to make sure something is always in bloom.

After about an hour of work, Maxwell looked at his watch. Carr and Adkins were the only ones there helping him.

"I hope more people will come," he said.

For more information about the garden, visit www.livingaidsmemorialgarden.org.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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