The Celts call them “thin places.” They’re those particular spaces where the veil between the spiritual and physical world seem to meet.
Held within the hollow of a pre-Civil War granite quarry, stepping down into Greenville’s Rock Quarry Garden on McDaniel Avenue near Cleveland Park is like entering a sanctuary. Traffic muffles, a spring-fed brook sings over rocks, the entire space is verdant with native plants and colorful annuals. A waterfall cascades under an arched footbridge—the landscape is hushed, peaceful, and achingly lovely. What is this magic? Where am I? You speak in whispers, reverent. A thin place.
If the Rock Quarry Garden is a holy place, then its unassuming chaplain would be Joey West.
For more than three decades, Mr. West has had his hands—quite literally—dirt deep in the landscape of some of Greenville’s most beloved public spaces. He’s not an easy man to track down. There are few mentions of him in a Google search, no headlines, no photos. Instead, his work speaks in banks of flowers, tidy borders, crisp edging. In the City of Greenville, his handiwork is unmistakable and work ethic, legendary.
“When I work in the dirt, the stress of the world just melts away.”
Joey West didn’t intend to be a landscaper or even grow up gardening. In fact, he thought he’d be a mechanic, racing dirt track. But while working as a printer at a box warehouse, West knew he needed a change. Craving a job outdoors, he began working on a landscaping crew for the City of Greenville, tending flowerbeds and trees along Main Street. It was during that first year he encountered the Rock Quarry Garden and knew immediately it was special.
Long rooted in the cultural landscape of Greenville since its founding by the Garden Club in the 1930s, the Rock Quarry Garden remains a sought-after spot for capturing significant moments: family pictures, wedding ceremonies, senior portraits. “It’s the natural beauty of the place, the way it sits down low offering privacy . . . you can go have a picnic with your kids, you can have a wedding down there . . . it’s different than anywhere in the city.”
West married his wife Nicole in the garden more than 20 years ago, working extra hours that season cultivating his own Eden. “That year, the garden was booming. Reds, whites, lavenders . . . color everywhere. I had the pond so clean you could see fish swimming at the bottom.” It remains one of his wife’s favorite places to visit.
She’s not alone. Working mornings before the heat of the day, West notices joggers and dog walkers on their daily routes through the garden. “You know, they don’t have to come down this way, but they do. It’s just nice to get a little peacefulness. Down there you can have a little quiet time.”
He sees his work as a legacy. “Over the years, I’ve put my own spin on the rock garden, and when I retire and pass it to the next person, they’ll put their own touch on it. I like it that way. When I work in the dirt, the stress of the world just melts away.”