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Growing Forward

This month, thanks in part to its many faithful volunteers, the New Hanover County Arboretum celebrates a milestone By Linda Carol Grattafiori Photographs by Mark Steelman


ctober 4, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the New Hanover County Arboretum, a landmark rightly called one of the “crown jewels” of Wilmington. The many jewels in this crown represent the volunteers and the vast number of hours invested shaping this seven-acre botanical garden, a surprising oasis located smack in the heart of our county. Al Hight, Arboretum director for the past five years, is grateful for the support of faithful volunteers. He works hand in hand with them and will offer congratulations for their service during the anniversary ceremonies, which will include burying a time capsule on the Arboretum grounds. The time capsule’s contents, to be opened at the Arboretum’s 50th anniversary, will be determined by New Hanover County school children, who will tell the story of what makes Wilmington thrive in 2014. Dozens of redbud and Japanese maple trees dressed in autumnal splendor will provide the backdrop for this celebration, plus a rose garden fragrant with fall blooms, a cottage-style herb garden, a magical children’s garden and playhouse, a Japanese garden with teahouse and winding stone stream, an experimental vegetable garden, and one of the state’s largest water gardens complete with large, colorful koi and a humorously sculptured sea serpent. New additions include the expanded picnic and parking areas, enlarged turf of wedding lawn, and a lush tropical garden with hardy palms, such as pindo, needle leaf and sabal palmetto. The Arboretum gardens, greenhouses and grounds — even the gift shop — will be in top-notch form thanks to the thousands of hours generously given by volunteers. “I want the Arboretum to go in the direction of its original mission as part of Cooperative Extension [via North Carolina State University], a ‘working arboretum’ that tests plant specimens from around the world,” Hight says. “Nursery people can then plug the successful plants into their production systems — and into our gardens. We’re not there yet, but with the continued help of our volunteers, we will be.” The precedent for volunteers’ devotion to an extension agent began in the early ’80s when Dr. Charles E. “Pete” Lewis asked a group of garden club women to help him flesh out ideas for an arboretum. Nina Lane and Oleta Friedman burned the midnight oil with Lewis in the planning stages, worked at the Lewis Conservatory once it was established, and answered the phones for the first plant 64

Salt • October 2014

hotline to the tune of 20,000 plus hours. Lane was more hands-on in the greenhouse, so when a group of school children came to the arboretum for a field trip, she asked Friedman to take them on a tour. “All of the children were given a potted plant to take home,” Friedman says. “I asked one excited little boy, ‘Are you going to give it to your mama, or are you going to plant it yourself?’ The boy assured me with great enthusiasm that he was going to plant it himself. It touched my heart and I said, ‘That plant is going to grow up big!’ The little boy beamed, and that was all I needed to love being a volunteer.” Friedman will be 93 years old this year and is looking forward to attending the Arboretum celebration for which she will provide the decorative ribbons. One current and equally devoted volunteer, board member and master gardener Sue Watkins, is the chairperson for Art in the Arboretum, the Cape Fear coast’s premier fall art show and the Arboretum’s major fundraiser. This year, the show will be extended to a three-day run, October 3–5, which coincides with the Arboretum’s anniversary. The gardens will be alive with continuous artist demonstrations (2D and 3D, plein air and pine needle weaving), children’s activities (scavenger hunt and nature-themed projects), and entertainment by local musicians. The grounds’ natural fall beauty will provide a perfect setting for creativity, including nature-inspired jewelry and metalsmith creations, plus ceramics, glass, textiles, stone, woodwork, painting and photography. Refreshments may be purchased from the 4-H club, and a special art exhibit and sale sponsored by the Ability Garden will feature artists with disabilities. Watkins is proud that New Hanover County has the only arboretum with a horticulture therapy program. As a master gardener for the past ten years, Watkins enjoys sharing her horticultural knowledge with visitors at the spring plant sale and all public events. She says that Hight continues to make vast improvements all around, and that New Hanover is among the top two counties with the largest number of arboretum volunteers. “If we’re going to support the nursery industry, we have to be willing to experiment with many different plants that might thrive and benefit in our climate,” says Hight, a 25-year extension veteran. “It is our job as an educational resource to help people figure out plant problems, and that is what we stress to our volunteers in our master gardener program. It is a great service because we’re not trying to sell anything. We just want to give the public the information they need to grow healthy plants and to interface with garden centers in an informed manner.” The New Hanover County Master Gardener Volunteer Association has more than three hundred active members who volunteer in many different ways: The Art & Soul of Wilmington

October Salt 2014  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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