Friday, January 18, 2013

Behind A Garden Wall: Armstrong Atlantic State University Arboretum

In her characteristic languorous drawl, a friend from Savannah suggested, "Armstrong Atlantic State University has a marvelous arboretum. You simply must visit." So I did.

I don't think I've visited the campus more than twice during the last forty-some years since I matriculated there. When I arrived at Armstrong Atlantic State University, I was a bit confused. Some drives had been closed, others had been re-directed, I couldn't find a legal place to park, and I couldn't find the arboretum. I found the University Police Office to ask.

Providing me with a map, the officer pointed to visitor parking areas and the "location of the arboretum." Unfortunately, the map didn't clearly show a route re-direction, so I drove about confused. I finally hailed a university pickup truck to ask the driver where I might find the arboretum. The man with the graying ponytail said, "You're in it. The entire campus is the arboretum."

Have you ever noticed that unless you intend to visit for 15 minutes or less, visitor parking at universities tend to be in inconvenient locations? Of course, administrators' parking spaces are very near their office doors, faculty and staff might be in the vicinity of their classrooms; student parking is way beyond that. I found a parking space on the outskirts and set out on foot to enjoy the arboretum.

There is no particular place to begin a visit to the Armstrong Arboretum. No matter where you park you're in the arboretum. Walk to whatever catches your eye, but "Please Stay On Sidewalks."

I began humming, "sign, sign, everywhere a sign..." When I was in college, students were warned repeatedly to stay off the grass. But faculty didn't stay off grass, so there wasn't a convincing reason to comply.

Though sidewalks existed, most of us took short-cuts across lawns to our classrooms creating dirt trails (sometimes blocked by signs, ropes or chains), over which laborers would eventually pour more concrete walks where they should have been in the first place. Armstrong Arboretum's landscape designer has creatively solved the problem in the Quad by establishing expansive beds planted with large shrubs and cleverly obstructed by chains.

As in most arboreta, species are identified with permanent signs. But, unless one ignores the signs to stay on the sidewalk, some plant labels can't be read. I didn't stay on the sidewalks. I was prepared to answer any challenge saying, "That doesn't apply to me now. I'm an alumnus, and a professional."

Developed areas of the Armstrong Atlantic State University Aboretum make good use of native species including live oak (Quercus virginiana), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), as well as introduced species from around the world. There is, however, the International Garden which only majors on plants from Asia and Australasia. Species include Kerosene Bush (Ozothamnus ledifolius), Lomatia myricoides, Bauhinia yunnanensis, Akebia trifoliata, Camellia sinensis and Pawlonia tomentosa.

The Conifer Garden is worth a visit. Surrounded by native pines, there are interesting varieties of Chamaecyparis obtusa and C. pisifera, Thuja, Juniperus, Pinus and Cryptomeria. Juniperus conferta 'All Gold' and Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' are two of my favorites.

Clerodendrum x speciosum

It seems that every available wall is draped with flowering vines. Remarkable specimens include Blue Glory (Thunbergia battiscombia), Brazilian Golden Vine (Mascagnia macroptera), Bauhinia, Glory Vine (Clerodendrum x speciosum), Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) and Orchid Vine (Mascagnia lilacina).

The Camellia Garden was just beginning to bloom when I visited, but it should be spectacular now in January. Camellia sasanqua brightens the landscape late September through November. Camellia japonica steals the show in December through February.

The Fern Collection includes some fine examples. The display should excite any shade gardener or collector of hardy ferns with selections such as Sechuan Ribbon Fern (Lepisorus bicolor), Dixie Wood Fern (Dryopteris x australis), Maiden Fern (Thelypteris kunthii), Hart's Tongue Fern (Pyrrosia lingua), Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum), Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) and Oriental Chain Fern (Woodwardia orientalis). Peacock Spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata) made a fine ground cover in the Fern Garden.

One small section was particularly fascinating. I don't remember what it was called. It looked arid and desolate like a Salvador Dali landscape, warmed by Anise Marigold (Tagetes lucida), with starkly shaped plants. Representatives included Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana), Cryptomeria japonica 'Araucaroides', Coontie (Zamia pumila), Cloverleaf Fern (Marsilea macropoda) and Chinese Nutmeg Tree (Torreya grandis). Gardeners with unusual plant preferences would be inspired.

Hedychium 'Elizabeth'

The Ginger Garden moved my senses from the stark to the lush. Protected by shade and sheltering walls, wonderful gingers thrive. Among them are Hidden Ginger (Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever'), Mauve Dancing Girl (Globba winitii), Yellow Dancing Girl (Globba schomburgkii), Hardy Ginger Lily (Hedychium 'Elizabeth'), Peacock Ginger (Cornukaempferia aurantifolia 'Jungle Gold') and Red Tower Ginger (Costus barbatus).

Every hour or so during my visit, students would swarm out of some buildings and into others. Then I would be alone again to stroll and snap pictures.

With so many lovely distractions, there's every reason to pause and enjoy the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University Arboretum, unless one's in a big hurry to class.

Note: As of 2018, Armstrong is a campus of Georgia Southern University.

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1 comment:

A. Joseph Marshall said...

It is an very good campus/arboretum and the article is even better. So true about the parking!