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Murray Journal

Fighting against leukemia with flowers

Dec 01, 2017 08:00PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Beautification award winner Sue Cross admires the fall colors in her garden. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

Flowers bloom as early as February in Sue Cross’s yard, notably the ice plants that kick off her growing season. Even well into late October, her garden of flower blossoms is a stark contrast to her neighbors’ yards, which have already been winterized. The work Cross, a retiree, has devoted to her yard and garden has paid off, as she is the recipient of one of Murray’s Beautification Awards.

While that honor is justly due, Cross has received other, far greater rewards from her gardening than a plaque to hang on her wall. She credits it for extending her life through a battle with leukemia. Cross’ physician gave her two months to live, but that was three years and three months ago. 

“It’s what keeps me going,” said Cross of her garden.

Each year, Murray’s Beautification Awards Program acknowledges attractive, well-maintained landscapes and the benefits they provide to the community. The Murray City Shade Tree and Beautification Commission, in cooperation with Murray City Power, sponsors the awards program each year.

According to Matt Erkelens, forestry supervisor for Murray City, “The Commission invites all residential and commercial property owners and tenants to enter and participate in this citywide endeavor. Nominations may be for your own landscape, a neighbor’s or a business’ that you particularly admire.”

“Landscapes are judged by the Murray City Shade Tree and Beautification Commission. The judges look for complexity, use of space and value to the community. Residential landscapes are judged on front yards only. A Council District Award is presented to a single-family winner in each of the five voting districts. A Mayor’s Award is given to the citywide best landscaped yard,” noted Erkelens.

Cross, the Council District Two winner, was born in Korea and came to Murray in 1963. She got a job as a housekeeper at Cottonwood Hospital. After 36 years, she retired and decided that gardening was what she would do to stay busy. She started with the small parking strip where her mailbox sits and from there her passion has taken over her whole yard.

Her hibiscus plants grow as tall as she is. When asked what special fertilizer or soil she uses to help her garden grow, she says neither, but she does have a special additive. “Prayer,” Cross said. “I pray for every plant so that people can enjoy them.”

She also shares seeds and plant starts with her neighbors, hoping that they will find joy in their gardens. 

“You have to talk to the plants. People think I am a little weird,” she said. Her plants respond favorably and can tell she cares. While her terminal cancer has made her more tired, and occasionally off balance, she smiles at the natural beauty that surrounds her.

This year marks the 30th year for the beautification awards. Over time, the Commission has come to also recognize xeriscape (low-water requirement) landscapes. Sample gardens can be found at the Conservation Garden Park located south of Murray at 8725 S. 1300 West. It demonstrates landscapes suited for Utah’s unique climate that are not only beautiful and easier to maintain, but are also designed to efficiently use water.

Murray residents can also find out what trees and plants do well in their soil. Residents can request a simple soil test kit through the local Utah State University Extension Service located at 2100 South and State Street.

The beautification winners for 2017 are District 1 Winner (Tie): Chris and Patti Phillips, 6433 S. 940 West and James Kessimakis, 4520 South Atwood Blvd.; District 2 Winner: Sue Cross, 933 West Riverbend Dr.; District 3 Winner: Linda Kessimakis, 4648 S. 345 East; District 4 Winner: Keith and Shelly Madeline, 567 East Benbow;

District 5 Winner: Lee and Jeannie Brown, 6100 South Glen Oaks; Multi-Family Winner: Three Fountains, 828 E. Three Fountains Circle; Commercial Winner: Fashion Place Mall, 6191 South State Street; Mayors Award: Blaine Sylvester, 943 W. Chesterbrook Cove.

Entries for next year’s beautification awards are due August 1 and judging will take place later in August, with the winners being announced in September. More information on the awards can be found online at: