NAX Day 5: Magnolia Plantation

For their final day of NAX, the Fellows visited Magnolia Plantation just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Magnolia Plantation has been owned by the Drayton family for over 300 years and was a rice plantation until shortly before the Civil War when Reverend John Drayton began converting the property’s focus to gardens. Originally planted as traditional formal gardens, the Reverend decided to transform the space into the new romantic style. Over 150 years later, the gardens are a beautiful blend of the two styles and feature magnificent live oaks and a collection of over 27,000 camellias.

Magnolia Plantation is home to magnificent live oaks and cypress trees, as well as expansive collections of camellias and azaleas that bloom in the spring and early summer.

Magnolia Plantation is home to magnificent live oaks and cypress trees, as well as expansive collections of camellias and azaleas that bloom in the spring and early summer.

Today, Magnolia strives to be a place where visitors can get away from the world while also staying relevant to the surrounding community. For example, the garden is considered to be one of America’s most dog-friendly destinations, and the organization even offers free annual memberships to families who adopt dogs from local shelters. In addition, all profits generated from the garden go towards the Magnolia Plantation Foundation, which gives scholarships and grants to local students and organizations.

Assistant Horticulturist Kate White shares the garden's history and details about its current upkeep.

Assistant Horticulturist Kate White shares the garden’s history and details about its current maintenance.

Magnolia’s commitment to relevance was evident throughout the Fellow’s day in the garden. Starting with a tour of the gardens, Assistant Horticulturist Kate White and Special Events/Festival Coordinator Karen Lucht shared both the history of the gardens and their current operations strategies. Afterwards, the Fellows were treated to a special “Lunch and Listen” with Isaac Leach, a life-long garden employee whose family has worked at Magnolia for several generations. Isaac grew up on the property, where his family lived in a former slave cabin until the early 1990’s. The Fellows were fascinated to hear about his experiences growing up and working at the garden, which he lovingly described as the place he was meant to be.

An icon of the garden, this black and white bridge is one of Magnolia's most popular wedding spots.

An icon of the garden, this black and white bridge is one of Magnolia’s most popular wedding spots.

The Fellows finished the day with Magnolia Plantation’s unique Slavery to Freedom tour led by Joseph McGill, founder of The Slave Dwelling Project. The tour leads visitors through several of the plantation’s former slave cabins, restored to different time periods between the pre-Civil War era and the Civil Rights Movement. The tour brings the story of Magnolia Plantation full-circle and helps represent the reality of the garden’s history as a rice plantation.

Joseph McGill describes daily life for the slaves that once inhabited this cabin.

Joseph McGill describes daily life for the slaves that once inhabited this cabin.

The Fellows would like to thank all of the Magnolia staff who went above and beyond to make this such a special experience!

NAX Day 4: Moore Farms Botanical Garden

Moore Farms Botanical Garden

The Fire Tower Center and Garden greet visitors with warmth and hospitality.

Like a horticultural beacon among a sea of sorghum fields, Moore Farms Botanical Garden draws over 8,000 visitors each year through its whimsical designs, educational programming, and southern hospitality. This “very public private garden” has been a powerhouse of change both within the garden gates and beyond, growing new community initiatives every day. A fairly young garden, the passion and vibrancy of the Moore Farms staff shined through every project, conversation, and tour, providing the Fellows with an unforgettable experience.

Planting Design

Dense, colorful plantings delight visitors and guide them throughout the garden.

Once a landscape of tobacco fields as far as the eye could see, garden founder Darla Moore envisioned Moore Farms Botanical Garden as a place of respite and welcome to all who visited. Indeed, in the spirit of true southern hospitality, staff treated the Fellows to a home-cooked meal Wednesday evening before we even explored the gardens Thursday morning, which were a treat in their own right!

Beginning at the Fire Tower Center, which functions as the hub for garden visitors and education, the Fellows toured through long leaf pine corridors, fire-restoration projects in the Pine Bay garden, a formal garden with seasonal displays, a mature green roof (and wall!), trial gardens, and state-of-the-art green house facilities.

Green Roof

Completed in the winter of 2012, the green roof and living wall is irrigated using recycled water distributed through an overhead system.

At the culmination of their visit, the Fellows climbed the site’s 110’ tall fire tower to get a bird’s eye view of the gardens and see how they function together to provide a multitude of offerings to visitors.

View from Fire Tower

View of Fire Tower Center Garden from atop the garden’s 100′ tall tower.


Beyond the garden gates, Moore Farms’ reach extends throughout nearby Lake City, Ms. Moore’s hometown. Her influence and generosity can be seen throughout the community in any number of public landscapes including the Village Green, over 50 containers, and many other pro bono consultation projects completed for local businesses. As a private garden, Moore Farms is able to give back to the community because it directs all monetary returns from events and programs back into other local groups and organizations.

Public Landscapes in Lake City

Horticulture Supervisor Erik Healy discusses the impact of Moore Farms’ public landscapes projects within Lake City.

The Fellows would like to thank the amazing staff at Moore Farms Botanical Garden, especially Education and Events Manager Rebecca Turk, for not only sharing such a special and unique place, but also going above and beyond to provide an incredible guest experience!

NAX Day 3: A Man Named Pearl

On a drizzly Wednesday morning, the Fellows pulled up to a small house nestled in Bishopville, South Carolina. Pearl Fryar, legendary topiary artist and community leader, was seated in a John Deere gator, flipping through the pages of the Lee County Observer.

Pearl Fryar graciously spent the better part of the morning touring with the Longwood Fellows

Today’s paper included a story on the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, and Pearl proudly showed us the article, which highlighted a generous donation from the local Waffle House in order to support the garden’s scholarship fund. A self-proclaimed “average student” with no training in horticulture, Pearl was passionate about supporting at-risk youth and “C-level” students in their creative and career goals.

Pearl and the Fellows

Pearl and the Fellows

“My point to students is: don’t allow someone to tell you what you can and can’t do by some test score, […] because you may be average academically and very talented in some other area.” The Friends of Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden scholarship was most recently awarded to two local high school students who would be attending technical college in the fall.

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Pearl’s organic sculptures often start as rescue’s from the discard pile

The same love and nurture was evident as we toured the garden. Starting in the 1980’s, Pearl defied stereotypes and prejudices towards black/African-American homeowners by winning Yard of the Month. He then continued to astound neighbors and plantsmen with his abstract topiary sculptures. Of all the specimens in his three-acre garden, over 70% came from discarded nursery plants meant for the compost pile. The message is united throughout the garden: with love, encouragement, and a steady hand, something that might have slipped through the cracks can become something incredible. One person can achieve incredible things against seemingly impossible odds.

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One of the more infamous pieces of work, this topiary has a distinct African art influence

The Fellows were deeply moved and inspired by Pearl’s creativity and positive spirit. We look forward to seeing how the garden will progress as part of the Garden Conservancy, and hope to see it remain as a beacon of Love, Peace, and Goodwill (the garden’s motto) in Bishopville and all of South Carolina.

Love, peace, and goodwill: Pearl's motto for the garden. This still was taken from the Youtube video Planting Hope

Love, peace, and goodwill: Pearl’s motto for the garden. This still was taken from the Youtube video Planting Hope

To learn more about the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden, please check out their website and documentary, “A Man Named Pearl“. Donations for both the garden and its scholarship fund can be made at or through the Garden Conservancy Donation page.



NAX Day 2: South Carolina Botanical Garden

Today we spent a scorching afternoon with Dr. Patrick McMillan at the South Carolina Botanical Garden on the Clemson University campus. Our tour focused on the Natural Heritage Trail, a quarter mile experience that takes the visitor through all of the major ecosystems of South Carolina.

Several signs like this one are installed over the length of the Natural Heritage Trail to orient visitors.

Several signs like this one are installed over the length of the Natural Heritage Trail to orient visitors.

A holistic, ecosystem-focused approach is evident in this garden as the team strives for healthy authenticity. We saw thriving pollinator communities, many federally threatened plant species, and visually stunning displays.


Many plant species along the trail were swarming with healthy pollinator communities

The Natural Heritage Trail is a fascinating work in progress and the Fellows look forward to following the future of this innovative garden. Thank you to Dr. McMillan and to the staff and students of the South Carolina Botanic Garden for generously sharing your time and knowledge!


The Natural Heritage Trail winds through South Carolina forest ecosystems, providing welcome shade.



NAX Day 1: Biltmore House and Gardens

Hello, friends and followers of the Longwood Graduate Program! This week, the Fellows are exploring the Carolinas on their North American Experience (NAX). NAX is part of the core LGP curriculum and allows the Fellows to explore public gardens in another region of North America while forging connections with professionals from across the country.

The Fellows’ adventure began today at Biltmore House and Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore is one of the few for-profit public gardens in the U.S. and was created from the original Vanderbilt estate. As one of the original founders of Biltmore said, “We don’t preserve Biltmore to make a profit, we make a profit to preserve Biltmore.”

An incredible vista of Biltmore house that the Fellows captured on their tour of the 8,000-acre property.

An incredible vista of Biltmore house that the Fellows captured on their tour of the 8,000-acre property.

To generate that profit, Biltmore leverages every part of its 8,000 acre-estate to create an incredible and unique visitor experience. Biltmore encompasses multiple businesses beyond the house and gardens, including a vineyard, winery, equestrian facilities, agricultural production, and outdoor recreation. The organization even offers multiple on-site accommodation options for guests to immerse themselves in the Biltmore atmosphere.

The Fellows stop to take in the vineyard views while on their tour with Biltmore Director of Horticulture Parker Andes.

The Fellows stop to take in the vineyard views while on their tour with Biltmore Director of Horticulture Parker Andes.

The Fellows would like to thank all of the fantastic directors and staff at Biltmore for their time, wisdom, and hospitality. It truly made for an unforgettable experience!

Filoli = “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.”

As we drove onto the former property of successful gold miners Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn, we knew it was a special place. The silvery foliage of the mature Olea europaea (olive) trees that line the parking lot were our first impressive clue to the experience that would unfold as the day continued. These trees were planted around 1918, and are part of the original plantings on Filoli property.
IMG_3300IMG_3323Mr. and Mrs. Bourn died in 1936, and the land and house were bought by Mr. and Mrs. William Roth. In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated her home and some of the land to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the rest of the 650 acres was donated to the entirely volunteer-run Filoli Center. The house and garden now have paid staff, but the volunteers are intensively trained and still play an important and critical role in the stewardship of the property.

We first met with our gracious hosts for the day: Alex Fernandez, Manager of Horticultural Operations, and Jim Salyards, Manager of Horticultural Collections and Education. Alex and Jim soon led us to a room where each half-hour a new staff member came in to talk to us aspiring garden administrators about their roles at Filoli. It was a very interesting morning, and their enthusiasm for the house and garden was so evident that after lunch, we were eager to explore.


The greenhouses, 17 acres of formal gardens, and 8 orchards are meticulously managed by 14 full-time garden staff. We ran into former Longwood Gardens Intern Doug Sederholm, now a gardener in Filoli’s cut flower garden. His area is bursting with continuous color during growing seasons so that the 24 flower arrangements throughout the house can be refreshed weekly.


Filoli also has a strong education component; with approximately 6,000 student visitors per year and 2,500 adult learners attending their 200 programs. They concentrate on horticulture, art, history, and preservation, with certificates in a very prestigious botanical art program (learn more about the Filoli’s Florilegium), floral design, and horticulture.

And the house! Designed by architect Willis Polk and built between 1915-1917, the house is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, and currently serves as a museum for 17th and 18th century English antiques. Detailed scenes of Muckross, an Irish estate, are painted directly onto the giant walls of he ballroom. Much of the furniture is carved with curves, or intricately inlaid with several types of wood. Fireplaces, floors, and the elegant stairway were carved out of marble.


As the garden closed for the day, we were grateful for the time the staff spent with us and for the chance to see a quality garden in action. Our drive down the coast continued as we anticipated the next day’s adventure: Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Blog by Sara Helm Wallaceand photos by Gary Shanks

The Garden on a Hill: UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Photos by Bryan Thompsonowak.


Dr. Bob Lyons and Dr. Paul Licht at University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley.

The climate in California is a fascinating subject, as we have experienced firsthand on this trip. Temperatures can fluctuate drastically as you travel from the valley back toward the bay area and, luckily for us, our nearly 100-degree morning in Davis turned into a 60-degree afternoon at the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Varying between 600 and 800 feet above sea level, the UC Botanical Garden has a unique environment for plant growth the includes wind and fog that supports the largest collection of documented wild-collected plants in North America!

We met several of UC Botanical Gardens staff on our visit. Director Dr. Paul Licht greeted us and introduced us to staff members Director of Horticulture Chris CarmichaIMG_3395el and Curator Holly Forbes. This great team led us on a tour of the gardens, which was organized geographically in a naturalistic design. There was even an Eastern North American garden that included plants such as the Liquidambar (sweet gum), Kalmia
(mountain laurel), and Hamamelis (witch hazel)!


Cactus and succulent collection

Arguably the most impressive aspect of this garden is their commitment to collections. UC Botanical Garden has the world’s largest collection of native California flora, and they have four nationally recognized plant collections through the North American Plant Conservation Consortium (NAPCC) – cycads, ferns, magnolias, and oaks. Additionally, they have a vast cactus and succulent collection, which is largely inaccessible to the public. Unfortunately, the garden has experienced several recent incidents of theft due to the rarity of the specimens in the collection, and that is why much of the collection is kept behind a barrier. There are still many amazing specimens that are not behind a barrier, however, and one that was in full bloom was Echinopsis tamaensis. The creamy, white flower was a bright spot of our visit during a cloudy and overcast afternoon.Despite the fact that there is no horticulture program at UC-Berkeley, the garden still plays a vital role for students on campus. Many courses, including biology, art, literature, geography, and medical ethnobotany, use the gardens as an invaluable outdoor laboratory. For us, the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley was a great example of a true botanical garden. Their focus on conservation, collections, and taxonomy was a notable and interesting contrast to some of the other organizations that we’ve visited since starting the program.


Puya raimondii was in bloom just in time for our visit!

Our evening ended with a delicious Greek dinner and a pleasant stay in the heart of San Francisco. Up next: San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum and the Conservatory of Flowers!

Airlie Gardens

August 24, 2012 – Airlie Gardens, NC
(written by Quill Teal-Sullivan, photographs by Wonsoon Park)

The final stop on our North American Experience was Airlie Gardens, a lovely display garden nestled amongst fresh water ponds and ancient live oaks at the edge of Wilmington, North Carolina. Airlie has a long history of public visitation, having first opened its doors to public tours over 100 years ago as the private estate of the Pembroke Jones family. In 1999, Airlie officially became a public garden when the owners partnered with the Coastal Land Trust and sold the 67-acre garden to New Hanover County.

Visitor Center at the Airlie Gardens

Our host for the day was former Longwood employee Jim McDaniel, who serves as the Director of Parks, Gardens, and Senior Resources for New Hanover County. When Jim was hired ten years ago, Airlie was on the brink of collapse after a brutal period of financial hardship under prior leadership. Over cups of strong Wilmington coffee, we listened to Jim recount the trials and triumphs of fighting for Airlie’s survival, and the victory of bringing the garden to full financial sustainability.

Director Jim McDaniel

Jim and his dedicated staff have integrated contemporary new gardens, facilities, and programs into a garden that drips with Southern history and magic.  One new addition to the garden is the Minnie Evan’s Bottle Chapel, dedicated to the popular African American folk artist who served as Airlie’s gatekeeper when it was a private estate. The Bottle Chapel is constructed of concrete and salvaged glass bottles, evoking the colors of sea glass and the spirit of a stained-glass window. A shrine composed of Aunt Jemima syrup bottles inside the Chapel is a tribute to Minnie’s devotion to the church, and a mark of the artist’s clever use of the materials.

Dr. Lyons taking photos of the Minnie Evan’s Bottle Chapel

Yet another new addition to the garden is a large butterfly house that was constructed using a prefabricated metal gazebo-like structure, enhanced according to USDA butterfly house standards, including mesh siding and roofing just right for domestic butterflies. The entire project from start to finish (including plantings), cost $200K, a figure that Jim estimated as being far less than many comparable butterfly houses on the market.

Butterfly House

But the crown jewel of the Airlie Gardens is far from new. The Airlie Oak, a 468-year-old live oak (Quercus virginiana) took our breath away. Its branches twist and turn towards the sky, festooned with Spanish moss as though hundreds of bearded old elves are swinging up-side-down from every limb. The Airlie Oak is North Carolina’s State Champion, making its neighboring oaks that are from 200 to 300 years of age, look juvenile. This ancient oak is insured for $1 million.

live oak (Quercus virginiana)

Our tour ended with a visit to the entry gate, surrounded by plantings designed by Longwood Graduate alumnus Rodney Eason. Then off we went to a fish-fried dinner along the sandy beaches of Cape Fear. And alas, this brings our North American Experience to an end. We have visited a diverse mix of gardens, each unique in its mission and approach serving its audience, collections, and greater community. Goodbye North Carolina, and thank you for your hospitality.

Beautiful walkway

Juniper Level Botanical Garden at Plant Delights Nursery

August 23, 2012 – Plants Delights Nursery, NC
(written by Dottie Miles, photographs by Quill Teal-Sullivan)

Hidden within a hedge of ‘Nellie Stevens’ holly and other “spiny” plant material, Plant Delights Nursery at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens is an eclectic collection of diverse plants gathered from near and far.  Passionate founder, Tony Avent, describes it as a research and botanical garden funded by a plant nursery operation with a mission, “to discover, study, select, preserve, and make available new hardy perennial plants for both shade gardens and sun gardens around the world.”

Our host, Tony Avent

Looking for non-invasive plants that can be hardy in the North Carolina climate, Avent is the mythbuster of horticulture, noting, “where you find it in the wild is not necessarily where it grows best.”  The garden is a testament to his pursuit to learn more about his collection, as he designs planting beds for both pleasure and research.

Martin examining a South African species

Within his garden, Avent has built an organic series of trails inviting one to wander, immerse and delight in the unique collection.  Containing whimsical garden elements and a smart irrigation and filtration system, the collection and juxtaposition ofplantings is astounding. Avent explains, “you don’t learn something new by duplicating what you already know,” and then goes on to highlight an experience of plant discovery that challenges known research and historical data.

Rain Lillies

To date, his collection has massed to 19,836 accessions that have been assembled through plant exploration in the U.S. and abroad. Avent and his associates have been on more than 70 collection trips during which they gathered over 1000 different ferns, the largest Aspidistra collection worldwide, an Amorphophallus collection that is the third largest in the country, rain lilies, agave, trillium, and the list goes on.

Beautiful agaves

To further plant propagation and research efforts, Avent has recently acquired neighboring land to expand operations; he anticipates opening to the public 7 days a week in the next few years.  Until then, Juniper Level Botanic Gardens is open eight weekends a year.

Cactus bloom

All in all, Avent may just be the most unique part of his eclectic garden.  To those who know him and his passion for plants, it should come to no surprise that he seems to find extreme enjoyment in sharing his garden with others.  The knowledge and insight he shared about his collection was a special treat and we all walked away wanting more than one of his plants.

Group shot with Tony Avent

North Carolina Botanical Garden

August 22, 2012 – North Carolina Botanical Garden, NC
(written by Wonsoon Park, photographs by Nate Tschaenn)

It was an overcast day with a little bit of drizzle when we were greeted by Johnny Randall and Dan Stern at the entrance of the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG). Dr. Randall is the director of Conservation Programs, and Stern, a former LGP Fellow (class of 2010) is currently the manager of the Sentinel Plant Network. The NCBG is operated by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the history of the Garden dates back to 1903 when William Chambers Coker, the University’s first professor of botany, began planting a teaching collection of trees and shrubs on the central campus. The Botanical Garden Foundation was founded in 1966, and now NCBG covers about 1,000 acres.

Director Johnny Randall and former fellow Dan Stern touring the group through the gardens.

Known as a “Conservation Garden,” the NCBG has very clear mission, which is to inspire understanding, appreciation, and conservation of plants in gardens and natural areas. We looked around the main visitor site of the NCBG, which is comprised of the Display Gardens and Education Center. Walking along the boardwalk through the Costal Plain Habitat Garden, Dr. Randall explained that this garden is a real piece of an ecosystem that literally has been moved from the actual coastal plain area. This habitat garden is burned once in a year, normally between January and February, to revitalize those fire-adapted plants in the same way as the original habitat.

Coastal Plain Habitat Garden

As a founding institution of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), the NCBG has been actively involved in ex-situ conservation conducting many important projects, such as their seed bank program, as well as rare plant reintroduction program. Using a series of raised beds, the Native Water Gardens and Carnivorous Plant Collection show that the North Carolina is a hotbed of carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants, sundews, and butterworts.

A pitcher plant and Venus flytrap in the Carnivorous Garden.

The new Education Center was dedicated in 2009, and it’s the state’s first public museum and outreach center to earn LEED platinum status. This facility features photovoltaic panels, geothermal wells, rainwater cisterns, storm-water retention, clerestory windows for natural lighting, and many others. Surprisingly, all the funds for this project were donated by nearly 600 individual donors.

Metal cisterns outside the Education Center collect rainwater and the paths are lined with recycled concrete from sidewalks.

We headed up to the Coker Arboretum at the UNC campus, which is two miles away from NCBG. Margo MacIntyre, the Curator of the Arboretum guided us throughout the 5 acres of secured area. The Arboretum features Southeastern American native woody plants as well as Southeastern Asian native plants for comparison.

Group shot at the Coker Arboretum

Finally, Dan Stern gave us a short history about the Wisteria Arbor, which was completely rebuilt in 1997 with five types of native climbers to demonstrate the examples of what we should plants and what not. We learned a lot about how to put conservation efforts into botanical garden settings, and really appreciated the hospitality of the staff today.

This iconic tunnel at North Carolina University, formerly planted with invasive Japanese wisteria, was replanted with several native vines including the native wisteria, Wisteria frutescens.