Friday, December 4, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: The Georgia Southern Botanical Garden

Nestled near the campus of Georgia Southern University, a quiet place awaits harried students, faculty and the Statesboro community.  Passersby on busy Fair Road might not know the garden even exists, since it is mostly concealed behind native hardwoods and shrubbery.  If not for a discreet sign, one might glimpse down the modest allee and mistake it for a quaint residence.

In fact, the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden was once a farmstead near The First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, an institution established in 1906.  Mr. Dan Bland and his wife, Catharine, established their farm of more than 50 acres in 1916 shortly after their marriage.  There they lived and worked for many decades growing cotton, vegetables, hogs, chickens and cows as the school and community grew up around them.

Mr. Dan was not only a farmer, a high calling indeed, but also an avid plant enthusiast with special interest in native species.  In 1985, he willed the remaining 6.5 acres of his property including his cottage and outbuildings to the Georgia Southern College Foundation for use as a botanical garden.  It was, as Wendell Berry put it, a "gift of good land."  The garden has been undergoing constant improvement and growth since.  Many of the plants in Mr. Dan's collection, including camellias, azaleas and the allee of magnolias and hollies are an important part of the garden's landscape. 

The school underwent transformations, becoming a Teacher's College, then a liberal arts college.  In 1990, the college gained university status, and is now the third largest in Georgia.  In 2006, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classified Georgia Southern University as a doctoral/research institution.

The GS Botanical Garden offers educational and recreational opportunities to the community as well as to university faculty and students.  Educational tours, seminars, workshops, and other special events are often conducted.  The Garden is also a popular site for social gatherings such as weddings, parties and wine-tastings.

A walking tour of the garden features landscaping with native plants, a heritage garden including old-fashioned plant varieties and cultivars, a butterfly garden, rose arbor, the allee, a woodland trail, the cottage and restored outbuildings.  Of special interest is the recently constructed water conservation area which features permeable paving, a rain garden and retention systems.  A visitor may also view many protected plant species that are part of the Garden's collection.  Art work by faculty and students enhances the landscape.

This unique botanical garden affords a wonderful perspective on gardening in the Deep South and Georgia's Coastal Plain.  When I stroll around the grounds, I think of Wendell Berry and that line in his essay, An Excellent Farmstead, "Everywhere you look you see the signs of care."  That is precisely what the Blands willed.  If you're in the area, make it a point to visit.  Hours and policies are posted on the Garden's web site.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

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