Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Behind A Garden Wall: Edith J Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University

Edith J Carrier Arboretum entrance

In 1964, James Madison University Botany Professor, Dr. Norlyn Bodkin, began using a wooded area of the campus as a convenient place for faculty and students to do botanical field studies. Meanwhile, Dr. Bodkin conceived the idea of establishing an arboretum in the woods. After many years of planning and promoting, it was finally opened to the public in 1989. It was named the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum to honor the wife of then University President Ronald Carrier.

I recently visited for the first time. Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.

Upon entering, a trail to the right leads to a labyrinth on a hill. I gave it a miss.

The best place to begin your visit will be at the Frances Plecker Education Building. Maps, a library, exhibits are available. A fair portion of the arboretum is in view of the terrace.

View from the terrace

Visitors with limited time, small children in prams or having physical challenges will enjoy the accessible trails around the pond and to the pavilion.

Exhibits along the way include:

Monarch dinner menu
  • Viette Perennial Garden - donated by AndrĂ© Viette, noted horticulturist, featuring daylilies (Hemerocallis), irises (Iris) and peonies (Paeonia) in seasonal bloom;
  • Drury Planting - Includes weeping bald cypress (Taxodium distichum 'Cascade Falls'), bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'),  dogwood (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Sunset'), and spirea (Spiraea x bumalda 'Dolchica', flowering from April to June;
  • Smith Shale Barren - "Perhaps the most unique of the arboretum’s gardens, this man-made shale barren is the only one of its kind in a public garden in Virginia and displays over a dozen strict endemic perennials that make their home in extreme conditions: harsh, direct and prolonged sunlight and high temperatures, in flower March to July";
  • Wetlands Garden - featuring aquatic and bog plants typical to that environment;
  • Hall Garden - featuring a large green ash tree (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), bluebells (Hyacinthoides spp.), Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum), ferns (Pteridophytes) and foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia), yellow magnolia (Magnolia x 'Butterflies') and various native shrubs; 
  • Monarch Waystation - "A pollinator garden providing habitat for a variety of insects, including butterflies like Monarchs, that require host plants for caterpillars and nectar plants that support the nutrient needs for their migration", including a handy menu for the hungry pilgrims to make their selections.
Those who have more time, or are not confined to a paved pathway, will enjoy other trails through the woods to visit:

  • Fern Valley (which needs no explanation);
  • Dale Hybrid Azalea Experimental Planting - best viewed from April to July;
  • MacDonald Azalea and Rhododendron Garden - best viewed from March to July;
  • Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society Native Azalea Garden - also best viewed from March to July;
  • Wood Wildflower Garden - flowering April and May;
  • Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest;
  • Herb Garden;
  • Sycamore Flat - a wildflower meadow and swale with stream and native plants.
Swinging bridge over the stream

My favorite is the Children's Garden. I love to teach kids about plants and nature. This area in the oak-hickory forest features whimsical sculpture and novel exhibits to make the educational experience easy and fun.

Fun things to do in the Children's Garden

The Carrier Arboretum is easily accessible, only 3 minutes from Interstate Highway 81 at Exit 245 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Whether you live in the area, or are just passing by, I hope you'll visit throughout the year. Something interesting is always "in season".

Return to GoGardenNow.com, or see more photos from the Edith J Carrier Arboretum!

Sculpture (Some are for sale!)

Meandering stream

Woodland walk


Making good use of a rotting tree trunk

Sculptured benches

Educational station to explore tree roots

Entrance to Children's Garden

Whimisical sculpture from tree roots

Red twig dogwood

Carrier Arboretum banner

Edith J Carrier Arboretum entrance

Arum italicum

Fragrant Edgeworthia chrysantha

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