Lake Norman & Mooresville

Plant lovers’ paradise celebrates 50th anniversary

Botanical Gardens director, Jeff Gillman, and assistant director, Paula Gross, stand in the dinosaur room of the greenhouse surrounded by descendants of prehistoric plants.
Botanical Gardens director, Jeff Gillman, and assistant director, Paula Gross, stand in the dinosaur room of the greenhouse surrounded by descendants of prehistoric plants.

The UNC Charlotte’s Botanical Gardens is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a daylong symposium on Oct.8. Additional events are planned throughout October designed to get folks out to explore the plant lovers’ paradise.

“Part of our mission is to get people out here to see the gardens and to experience what we have to offer. We want to stop being a hidden gem and be just a gem,” said Botanical Gardens Director Jeff Gillman.

The Botanical Gardens is like an encyclopedia of plants. There is something here that is going to amaze everyone.

Botanical Gardens assistant director Paula Gross

The 10-acre site on the edge of campus takes many folks by surprise as it has quietly developed alongside the new residence halls and classrooms on one of the state’s most modern public university campuses.

The Botanical Gardens features winding, well maintained trails that take visitors through a variety of environments including the Piedmont woodlands, strategically stocked with a large collection of rhododendrons, some that date back to the garden’s beginnings in 1966.

The 50th anniversary is also a kickoff of the campaign to grow the Botannical Gardens. Plans call for building three conservatories and a new visitor center – a total of 15,000 square feet under glass – so that the greenhouses can be returned to their original planting and growing duties.

“We have over 100 species and varieties of rhododendrons and in the spring it’s like a fairyland of different colors, shapes, sizes and smells. You aren’t going to see anything else like this nearby,” said Botanical Gardens assistant director Paula Gross.

Continue following the path and you will discover a Native Terrace landscaped entirely with native plants; an Asian garden with several notable sculptures and carefully arranged large stones; and a pond that features a variety of water plants.

Hammock stands, picnic tables and benches are tucked around the gardens for visitors who want to stay awhile and enjoy the view.

Plants don’t get the credit that animals do. But when you look at it, plants are the foundation of life on earth. We wouldn’t be here if not for them.

Botanical Gardens assistant director Paula Gross

Across the street, seven greenhouse rooms hold thousands of plants from around the globe.

The orchid room features 500 kinds of orchids.

Next door, the dinosaur room boasts plants that are descendants of some of the oldest plants on Earth. A life size metal sculpture of a deinonychus dinosaur that roamed the Earth around the same time as the plants’ ancestors – some 65 million years ago – stands in the middle of the room guarding the foliage.

The tropical fruits and spices room gives visitors a peek at a coffee tree, black pepper vine, chocolate tree, allspice tree, lemon tree, vanilla orchid vine and more.

Other rooms are stuffed with carnivorous plants, the famous Titan Arum (corpse flower) that smells like rotting flesh when in bloom, ferns, flowers and most every other plant you can imagine.

“The Botanical Gardens is like an encyclopedia of plants. There is something here that is going to amaze everyone,” said Gross.

“Plants don’t get the credit that animals do. But when you look at it, plants are the foundation of life on earth. We wouldn’t be here if not for them.”

History, culture, science, art, music and more can be experienced in a visit to the site.

Many of the plants have long storied pasts, and Gross can narrate each one. Art students have created small sculptures that are nestled among many of the plants and creative planters hang off the greenhouse walls. Garden staff and the music department are working together to arrange periodic concerts in the gardens making visits there even more special.

The 50th anniversary is also a kickoff of the campaign to grow the gardens. Plans call for building three conservatories and a new visitor center – a total of 15,000 square feet under glass – so that the greenhouses can be returned to their original planting and growing duties.

Gillman says the Botanical Gardens are a source of pride in plant circles, but when renovations are complete, the gardens will draw crowds to the university from all across the southeast United States.

“When construction is complete, we will have the largest public university conservatory between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. And the crazy thing about all this is, admission is free,” said Gillman.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

Want to go?

The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens are located at 9090 Craver Road, Charlotte, 28262. Gardens are open everyday during daylight hours. McMillian Greenhouse hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Call 704-687-0721 or visit http://gardens.uncc.edu for information.

50th Anniversary Symposium “Bringing the World of Plants to People:” 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Oct. 8. Speakers include Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist; Steve Aitken, Editor of Fine Gardening Magazine; Larry Mellichamp, UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens Director Emeritus; and Paula Gross, Botanical Gardens Assistant Director. Tickets are $99 each and include lunch and a guided garden tour. Proceeds support the operation of the Gardens. Tickets and other information at http://gardens.uncc.edu

Fall Plant Sale: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 14-15 Purchase trees, shrubs, ferns, wildflowers, perennials and more. Get advice from plant experts. Proceeds support the operation of the Gardens.

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