South Charlotte

Volunteers a key part of Wing Haven

For the months leading up to and following the twice annual plant sales at Wing Haven, dozens of area gardeners lend their expertise and talents each Wednesday to the Myers Park gardens and bird sanctuary.

Referring to themselves as the "Wednesday Wingers" the all-volunteer group can be found taking direction from garden curator and full time staffer, Jeffrey Drum.

Since 1927, Wing Haven has been a fixture in Charlotte, developed as the private gardens and residence by the late Elizabeth and Edwin Clarkson. The gardens, just off Ridgewood Avenue, feature almost 3 acres of gardens, woodlands special plantings for birds and countless plants native to our region of the country. Given to the Wing Haven Foundation in 1970, the gardens and bird sanctuary along with the neighboring Elizabeth Lawrence Garden are open to the public.

"Having committed personnel, this kind of staff in the nursery is the key to making our operation successful," said Drum, a 10-year veteran at Wing Haven. "Our volunteers come to us with varying degree of garden knowledge and expertise. Some are novice gardeners wanting to learn more about plants and gardens, particularly what is successful in our southern climate and soil, and others are very learned Master Gardeners who willingly share their knowledge. We have room here for all."

According to Dia Steiger, executive director, Wing Haven has more than 300 registered volunteers with 30-40 helping out on any given Wednesday.

"Our nursery generates 18 percent of our overall operating budget," said Steiger. "This comes from sales to the public through our annual sales in April and October and during our regular operating hours apart from the sales."

Steiger said the volunteers are part of what make the garden special.

"When people come to our gardens and nursery they are going to find a great selection of unusual and hard to find plants that are not available just anywhere," Steiger said. "Additionally, our volunteer staff is extremely knowledgeable about Carolina clay, our climate and what will and won't grow here. These are people who dig in Charlotte dirt every day and know from experience what works well in this area. This is one of the things that make us really special. Visitors will also find a snapshot of history here, something that is uniquely Charlotte. This garden was created over many years by the Clarkson's and together with the house and education center we're able to share that history."

The volunteers are often treated to cookies and refreshments, a tradition started by Ms. Clarkson that is carried on today by the Wing Haven staff. The group also benefits from special lectures and education sessions during off season times when they are not working in the nursery and seem to share a special bond with each other.

Marilyn Cole has been volunteering at Wing Haven for six years.

"I enjoy my time here tremendously," said Cole. "I never leave here without learning something. I'm here every week unless I'm traveling and really like being with a group of people who share the same interests I do, we have a lot of fun here."

Audrey Riviere said, "I enjoy being outside."

The self-proclaimed "potter-upper" was dividing and repotting plants one of the garden members brought in. "It's fun meeting new people and supporting such a great garden," Riviere said.

Before and after each seasonal sale there is much work that needs to be performed according to Drum. Everything from wholesale purchase and receiving of plants, to transplanting and to tagging plants for sale is all completed by volunteers.

"Our group of volunteers develop quite a bond for each other," said Steiger. "We offer a great venue for newcomers to plug into the community and see relationships develop here that blossom for years to come."

It seems even friendship grows in this Myers Park garden.