Raleigh, N.C. — Christmas at the legislative complex in downtown Raleigh might never look the same after this year.
The holiday decorations created by master landscape gardener Stan Yelverton have brought joy to tens of thousands of visitors over the decades, but after 36 years of working for the state, he is retiring next week.
Yelverton has spent most of his career in the background, tending the hundreds of flowers and plants in and around the complex, but Christmas has become his time to shine. Holiday decorations weren't even part of his job originally, and then he noticed the Christmas tree at the Legislative Building left a lot to be desired.
"I asked, 'Could I do the tree?' one year, and it sort of ballooned from there," he said Monday.
For 29 Christmases, Yelverton's creativity has amazed lawmakers, staffers and visitors. Each year, he comes up with themes for the different public areas in the Legislative Building and adjacent Legislative Office Building. He's done Dr. Seuss trees, country trees, a tree decorated with cardinals – the state bird – and even a tree inspired by a friend who dressed up as a peacock for Halloween.
"She showed me the pictures of the costume, and I went, 'Hmm. I'm liking those colors,'" he said. "I think the all-time favorite of the ladies in (the Legislative Office Building) was one we did in copper and gold. For some reason, they told me – the ladies told me – it made them want to dance."
No two trees Yelverton has decorated over the years have been alike.
"(Ideas) just come to me. For some strange reason, this year I wanted to do gold and white down here" on the first floor of the Legislative Building," he said. "But the theme this year in this building's second and third floor is the poinsettia."
The flowers are everywhere: big red blooms hanging from the chandeliers, floating in the fountains and forming a giant wreath in the front window.
"It turned out very well. I think, this year, that has been my favorite thing," he said.
Decorating the two buildings takes about two weeks. The plants are then donated to charities, and other decorations are carefully sorted and stored to be used again.
Yelverton won't be using them again, however. At 61, he said it's time to deck his own halls for a change, although he might come back to help the new master gardener next Christmas if asked.
"It's been fun. It's been fun," he said.
Yelverton will be honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina's top honors for people who have served the state, on Dec. 31, his last day of work.