South Charlotte

Master gardener enjoys history, plants

There are two gardens owned and operated by the Wing Haven Foundation in Myers Park.

One is the familiar Wing Haven Gardens & Bird Sanctuary at 248 Ridgewood Avenue, the former home of Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson. The other is the Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden, just down the street.

Look for the gray cottage at 348 Ridgewood Avenue and for Andrea Sprott, the new Lawrence Garden Associate hired last November.

Sprott, 38, has a job some people might envy. The house and garden that comprise her workplace are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She is a caretaker for beautiful plants. And she gets to wear jeans most days.

She says she lived in the neighborhood for a time without knowing what Wing Haven offered. Eventually, she volunteered with the nursery. That led to her current position.

Sprott completed a cooperative extension program to become a master gardener and is a collector of plants. She reads and attends lectures to learn more. It was her husband who first encouraged her to take an interest in gardening years ago.

She didn't always want to work around plants. Sprott was formerly an accounting manager for an international shipping company. As a little girl, she thought she might become an archaeologist.

There were things that foreshadowed her future, though. When she was a child in upstate New York, she could often be found outdoors. She says she and her sister liked to pretend fallen leaves were money. Her family moved to North Carolina when she was 8 years old.

"I always liked getting my hands dirty," Sprott said.

She now lives near Matthews, with her husband and their five dogs. She gardens at home - mostly ornamentals and some herbs. Her yard is a certified wildlife habitat.

At work, her favorite plant is a camellia, impressive in size. Sprott divides her time at the Lawrence Garden between indoors and out. She prefers pulling weeds by hand to spraying.

She tends plants, provides tours, oversees volunteers and sifts through correspondence and other information left behind by the late Elizabeth Lawrence, who was dedicated to keeping detailed records.

Lawrence, born in 1904, was the first woman to graduate from the landscape architecture program at North Carolina State University, making contributions to horticulture in the South by maintaining her personal garden as a laboratory. Lawrence also wrote books and articles, including a column for The Charlotte Observer.

Sprott says to think of Wing Haven Gardens (the Clarkson Gardens) as "historical" gardens and the Lawrence Garden as an "experimental" garden.

"I'm absolutely honored to be here," said Sprott. "I think my favorite part of being here is feeling a bit of a hug every time I come set foot on property," said Sprott. She has met people who knew Lawrence, learning details about her to enrich the experience for garden guests.

Sprott would like more visitors.

She wants everyone to feel welcome and invites you to take a break from work, bring lunch and relax. For more on admission, hours and parking, go to www.winghavengarderns.com.

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