Atlanta's Urban Oasis: the Atlanta Botanical Garden

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The mission of the Atlanta Botanical Garden is to develop and maintain plant collections for display, education, research, conservation, and enjoyment.


Š 2016 by Atlanta Botanical Garden. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Published by Sea Hill Press Inc. Santa Barbara, California

ISBN 978-1-937720-36-0 Printed in Hong Kong





Dedicated to Dorothy Chapman Fuqua There are few people who have the ability to change a community, to inspire, and to share with humble and loving hands. Dottie Fuqua was one of those rare treasures. She loved nature, gardens, and design, but most of all she loved people. We dedicate this book to her, a woman who made sure that our gardens would touch both children and adults—and generations to come.

My mother believed deeply that the astonishing diversity and beauty found in the natural world elevated the human spirit and brought us closer to God. For her, a garden, no matter how small, was a source of endless pleasure and peace. Her commitment to the Atlanta Botanical Garden was grounded in this philosophy and was her way of sharing this uplifting vision with others.

Mary Pat Matheson

Rex Fuqua

The Anna & Hays Mershon President & CEO Atlanta Botanical Garden



The Evolution of Atlanta’s Urban Oasis MARY PAT MATHESON The Anna and Hays Mershon President & CEO The Atlanta Botanical Garden has a rich history and strong foundation on which the gardens and programs have been built over the last four decades. Envisioned by a group of tenacious volunteers, bonded together through the love of plants and gardens, the botanical garden grew far beyond the hopes and expectations of those early dreamers. Though plants brought many of them together, it was also a strong belief that all great cities have great gardens that compelled the early dreamers to embark on a quest to secure the land in Midtown’s Piedmont Park for a new botanical garden. And so, in 1976, Atlanta’s urban oasis was conceived with a view to bringing a robust and beautiful botanical garden to one of America’s growing cities. That year, the city opened the new Georgia World Congress Center and began its efforts to grow convention business as an economic driver. MARTA public transportation followed soon after, another indication of the burgeoning city and its expansion into the suburbs. Securing the site for a botanical garden in the late 1970s paralleled these and other initiatives to create a modern metropolis in the South. Like any great enterprise, securing the site for the garden was both a challenge and an opportunity; fortunately, the timing was good to ask the city to dedicate land for the project. Piedmont Park had fallen into disrepair, and the board members of the newly formed garden were able to convince Mayor Maynard Jackson that Midtown was the perfect location for a garden. He shared their vision and approved the lease between the new garden nonprofit and the City of Atlanta, laying the groundwork for all future success. The early dreamers loved Piedmont Park and believed that the new garden would be well placed within the city because of Midtown’s central location. Who would have imagined that 40 years later, Midtown would become a national model for planned urban growth and the hub of business and residential activity in the city? As the garden grew, so did Midtown, with office high-rises lining Peachtree Street, eclectic restaurants popping up, and the residential community expanding with new condo and apartment towers. Midtown turned out to be the ideal location for the botanical garden because of its lively business and residential community and its magnificent Piedmont Park. As the city grew, the Park regained its former glory with the vision and leadership of the Piedmont Park Conservancy.


“We’ve taken this beautiful garden that I always thought was one of the finest canvases to paint on, and we painted a little more color in this corner, a little more splash over in that one, a little more flowers over here, until we’ve just taken it to the next level.” — Mary Pat Matheson, President & CEO


The Atlanta Botanical Garden has blossomed in its community and grown remarkably since its inception. As the community of botanical gardens around the world evolved since the 1970s, so did Atlanta’s. Leaders began to see the importance of creating an oasis in the city that would serve many roles in the community. Yes, plants and beauty remained top of mind, but the importance of connecting people to plants became more pressing as urbanization spread across the world and our own community. As beautiful garden displays were developed, conservation programs grew and programs expanded with a more creative and audience-driven approach. Major exhibitions, enhanced floral shows, and creative programming attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the garden annually. What was once a young enterprise driven by volunteer support became one of our nation’s top botanical gardens, exhibiting a dynamic and creative energy that was new to the field. This book is a testimony to those who came before us and to the many hands that shaped this remarkable garden. When I accepted the leadership position at the Garden in 2002, what excited me most was the vision of the early dreamers and the opportunity to take their dream to another level. It’s rare to have the chance to do that with those founders still here to witness that growth. I’ve been most fortunate to have known most of them and celebrated many successes together. I was also drawn to what I called the “canvas” of our garden—the beautiful site in Midtown was just waiting to be painted on, a few more layers of paint in the form of new gardens, floral displays, exhibits, programs, and facilities. The Garden has grown into a beautiful living tapestry that is robust with families and visitors from all parts of our community and the world. We share with you our “Monet,” the garden that was conceived by dreamers and developed with the hands of many painters.

Earth Goddess, a sculpture by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal, is a natural magnet for visitors approaching the Cascades Garden. Installed during the exhibition Imaginary Worlds, Atlanta Botanical Garden, May 2013 – October 2014. © 2016 Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal.



The Early Days

Above: First Lady Lady Bird Johnson joins good friend Dottie Fuqua at the opening of the Fuqua Conservatory. Left: A modest trailer was the starting point of

Backed not by gifts of cash or land, a group of prideful Atlantans—with little more in common than a love of plants— joined forces in the 1970s on a long journey to birth a jewel of a garden in the heart of Midtown. Their pilot: Hope.

the Garden. Opposite, top: Dottie Fuqua, center, shares plans for the Conservatory to be named in her honor. Opposite, right: First Lady Rosalynn Carter and President Jimmy Carter tour the Orchid Center with curator Becky Brinkman.

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”­ —Lady Bird Johnson

History Land of opportunity Every April, a vibrant Viburnum unfurls its billowy white blossoms in a tucked-away corner of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, signaling to visitors that long-held hopes for spring are coming to fruition. The Chinese Snowball stands sentinel near the site of what was in the early 1970s— much like the bodacious, blooming shrub—a symbol of hope and determination. At that spot, a modest house trailer sat abuzz with activity by a dozen or so plant enthusiasts driven by the notion that Atlanta needed a botanical garden—a living museum dedicated to sharing the enjoyment of plants, the expertise of those who tend them, and a stewardship of the environment. The trailer was tucked into what was then a western corner of Piedmont Park, which in the ’60s, like many urban public parks, struggled with a Who’s Who of “residents,” including hippies, vagrants, and drug dealers. The thought of using some of the park land to create a public garden was about the farthest idea from the priorities guiding city officials. Yet, the small group of Garden backers persisted, touting the rich history of the land itself. Originally, Piedmont Park was farmland, purchased in the 1870s by wealthy Atlantans who formed the Gentleman’s Driving Club to show and race horses. They also offered the grounds as a site suitable for holding fairs, beginning with the Piedmont Exposition in 1887; before long, the public started calling the site “Piedmont Park.” Yet the regional exposition could not compare with what would take place in 1895—the Cotton States and International Exposition—a world’s fair that ran for 100 days and drew 800,000 visitors. Like most events of such magnitude, it spurred improvements to the Park—creating Lake Clara Meer, new roads and buildings, and stone staircases and planters, several of which remain today along the botanical garden’s eastern edge.

Greenhouses grow green interest During the 1900s, Atlanta literally grew up around Piedmont Park, which once served other neighborhood parks with greenhouses built on the site of what would one day become the Garden. By the ’60s, gardening enthusiasts were drawn to the greenhouses and soon began developing small gardens around them: The Atlanta Bonsai Society created a Japanese garden, the Atlanta Rose Society cultivated a rose garden, a fragrance garden was built for the blind. As these gardens


In 2011, the Garden honored its “seeds” for their work in laying the groundwork for the Garden in its early years: Norris Broyles George de Man Mary Wayne Dixon Dorothy Fuqua Holcombe Green Ben Greer Barbara Humphreys Mary Izard Peggy Martin Olive Robinson Deen Day Sanders Tom Woodham Dorothy Yates


Director Ann Crammond was known for her colorful personality.

“I remember when they kept all the membership records in a shoebox, and they took it home at night in case there was a fire and they lost everything.” — Sylvia Attkisson, lifetime trustee

sprouted, so did an idea: Atlanta needs a botanical garden, an attraction that could become an economic driver for the city. With fierce determination, Barbara Humphreys, a Northern transplant with a lifelong passion for horticulture, set out to gain support for the idea from the city and its residents. “We literally started with nothing,” she recalled. “Many great botanical gardens got their start as wealthy estates or mature plant collections on the grounds of established universities.” Atlanta’s, on the other hand, would be built by the community—from the ground up. Humphreys became a magnet for igniting interest and recruiting followers, assembling a small core group of volunteers from all walks of life—businessmen, homemakers, lawyers, horticulturists, philanthropists, garden club members. They included advertising executive George de Man and Junior League leader Olive Robinson, who, with Humphreys, formed a board and elected themselves officers. For six years, they and other volunteers, who one day would be dubbed the “seeds of the Garden,” worked tirelessly to build support for convincing the city to lease the land to them. Finally, the group got a yes from Mayor Maynard Jackson, and with guidance and leadership of attorney Ben Greer, established the Garden as a nonprofit organization in 1976. “We had to prove we had the staying power and capacity to operate a public garden and develop the site,” Greer said of the initial one-year agreement.

The trailer days

Community support fuels rapid growth

The hub of the Garden in the late ’70s was that modest house trailer, which served as visitor center, office, and gift shop. Under the dedicated leadership of Bill Close, a turning point for the Garden came in 1979 when the board hired Ann Lyon Crammond as executive director. The Connecticut resident was referred by renowned Atlanta landscape architect Edith Henderson. “Within 24 hours of seeing the Garden, she took our offer for the job,” Olive Robinson recalled. Environmental Planning and Design of Pittsburgh was selected to develop a master plan for the Garden. From there, Crammond and a skeletal staff assisted by dedicated volunteers created a series of nine demonstration gardens, including ones devoted to roses, herbs, and Japanese design, that quickly drew the attention of the home gardener. Crammond proved as effective in administration as she was in the dirt, working with attorney Greer to secure a 50-year lease with the city for 34 acres. “Ann could convince those extremely successful men into doing what she wanted,” said lifetime trustee Sylvia Attkisson. “She really was a force to be reckoned with.”

With the trailer housing so many functions, it soon became clear that more space was needed, especially for offering classes, and a second trailer was added. In response to a trustees’ challenge grant, Garden supporters raised $3.6 million to construct a new visitor center with offices and educational space. Gardenhouse, designed by architect Anthony Ames and completed in 1985, also housed a meeting space, research library, and gift shop—and became the brick-and-mortar heart of the Garden, symbolizing a new era of potential growth and development. “One thing after another just led to this wonderful, miraculous thing that the city of Atlanta supported,” said Peggy Martin, who was president at the time. Fueling the biggest spurt of growth in the ’80s was a gift of $5.5 million from Atlanta businessman J.B. Fuqua to build a conservatory in honor of his wife, Dottie, a Garden trustee and avid gardener. The 1987 gift came shortly after Dottie Fuqua asked Crammond what it would take to put the garden on the map. The director didn’t hesitate: An indoor facility dedicated to plants. “The thought stuck with me, and when I mentioned it to J.B., he asked what one would cost,” Dottie Fuqua recalled in a 2002 interview. “When I said at least a million dollars, being a man of few words, he didn’t say much.” A few days later, she said, her husband informed her that the money was in the bank for “your little greenhouse.” To her surprise, he donated $3.5 million.

Weathered stone stairs and urns that were part of buildings erected for the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Piedmont Park remain on garden property today.

Left: Small demonstration gardens preceded display gardens. Right: Mildred Pinnell Fockele, center, headed the horticulture team.



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