Natchez resident’s vision for colorful riverfront flourishes

Published 11:22 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

By Christian Coffman

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Bright red poppies line the riverfront at Natchez Under-the-Hill, the result of Gregory Brooking’s wish to make Natchez more beautiful.

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Brooking said he began thinking about what he could do to make the view from the Natchez riverfront prettier for his friends in 2010.

Brooking has been planting poppies for nearly 30 years, beginning when he was a superintendent at Fernwood Country Club in McComb.

While at a friend’s house on the Natchez bluff in 2010, Brooking was looking down on the riverfront property and began wondering what he could do to make the view prettier.

“A vision of those red poppies covering that area came to me,” Brooking said. “I thought it would be quite a beautiful sight for anyone to see.”

A year later Brooking spoke with his friend David Paradise, who owned property on Learned’s Mill Road, about planting the flowers.

Paradise accepted the offer and in the winter of 2011 approximately 17 million seeds were bought for the first year of the gardening project.

Brooking said the first year’s planting was met with unfortunate circumstances when the river rose and covered the riverfront along with the stand of poppies.

The river during the second year was not low enough so Brooking and Paradise could not grow the poppies, so they planted again next winter in 2012.

“Of course, we were wrong again, but a few survived,” Brooking said.

The same year, Brooking was planting his poppies on the riverbank on Silver Street. Most were mowed down or sprayed with chemicals.

“I had no control of the mowing practices or workers that were keeping up the area,” Brooking said. “We had given up on David’s riverfront property because it constantly flooded.”

However, in January 2013 Dick Stewart, then manager of the former Isle of Capri Casino Natchez  that operated at Natchez Under-the-Hill — and his plant-enthusiast wife Creda helped Brooking grow the poppies.

“When I asked Dick if he could keep the mowers and spraying off the riverfront, he said sure,” Brooking said.

“The Natchez poppies were born.”

Brooking said he was able to grow masses of poppies afterwards, with residents soon coming to take photos and tourists visiting the flowers every spring.

In 2014, Mayor Butch Brown allowed the city to bring dirt to build up the riverbank so the poppies could cascade down the bank.

In 2015, the Isle of Capri paid for the seeds because they wanted Brooking to plant down the riverfront to the casino.

“They wanted to have the poppies planted all the way along the riverfront to help beautify our Natchez Under-the-Hill,” Brooking said.

Brooking said he hopes the poppy project continues to bring joy to visitors well into the future.

“I pay for everything,” Brooking said. “I do it to make my life better and Natchez a prettier and better place to live.”