This article originally appeared in the Shopper News on September 30, 2015.
Kenny Manis arrives at Nature’s Cove, an affordable housing property in West Knox County, every morning before dawn to water the flowers beds and landscaped features that he championed for the property.
Known to all residents as “Mr. Kenny,” Manis has been a maintenance manager with Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation for a decade and has worked in the industry for 40 years. He led the initiative at Nature’s Cove to increase the curb appeal of the property and create a sense of home for residents.
“The moment you can make these residents think of this as their home, they’ll help you take care of it,” said Manis, who has been at Nature’s Cove for six years. “People want to live in a nice place, and they will help you make it happen.”
Manis began planting perennials several years ago and sought instruction on their care so the flowers and shrubs would return each year. Managing a tight budget while continuing to improve the look of the property can be a challenge, and Manis said he has learned many “tricks of the trades.”
Since taking over the property, Manis cleared more than 50 trees and placed functional landscaping to help manage foot traffic and protect green spaces.
“It’s an enjoyable challenge,” he said. “Curb appeal is so important, and these improvements make the property a marketable product. The residents love it, and if you can make the residents happy, they will get involved.”
For example, Manis pointed to a bed of red rose bushes that he tends to daily to keep the plants healthy and blooming. An elderly resident who enjoys the flower beds requested a yellow rose bush; another senior citizen asked for pink roses. Manis was able to place both types for the ladies to enjoy.
Several of the residents have taken to gardening and built flower beds in front of their homes. These residents ask Manis for advice and when he has extra mulch, he helps with their personal gardens. Manis has even gotten the 85 children who live on the property to help.
“With so many children here, you have to have them on your side to keep things nice,” Manis said. “I always keep candy around, and they know that if they stay out of my flower beds, they will be rewarded. I love having the kids around.”
“Kenny has gone above and beyond his job description to make Nature’s Cove a beautiful place for our residents to live,” said Kristie Toby, senior asset manager for KCDC. “Every year, Kenny has a new feature planned to beautify the property. This personal project is all on top of covering the everyday interior and exterior maintenance needs on all 95 units.
“Kenny’s skills as a landscaper are in such high demand that he recently traveled to another KCDC property, Western Heights, to consult on landscape improvements at that site.”
Manis oversaw the placement of 48 holly bushes, 20 mulberry trees and two dump truck loads of mulch at the entrance to Western Heights. Manis enjoyed the experience, but his primary work still lies in Nature’s Cove.
“This is my world,” Manis said. “You don’t mind working hard when you can look back and see what you have done. I’m always thinking what I can do to improve it.”
Manis already has plans for next year, which include covering a stone retaining wall in creeping stone ivy and planting new holly bushes around several high-traffic green spaces.