From the Director’s Desk: Thoughts of a Weed Puller

Dr. C. Craig Tisher

Our fall plant sale was a great success despite the many uncertainties we faced during the planning stage and up to the time of the event. We thank all of you who supported the sale, both on-line and in person. Because there was concern that we would not be able to hold the usual two-day sale at the gardens, we greatly expanded our usual pre-order opportunity for camellias by offering a large selection of azaleas and other interesting plants grown locally by Tropic Traditions. We thank Jim Fleming, owner of Tropic Traditions, for working with us to expand the pre-order options. As in the recent past, our camellias were provided by Mark Crawford, owner of Loch Laurel Nursery in Valdosta, Georgia. We also thank Mark for joining us on the first day of the sale to meet many of our customers and provide an additional array of beautiful camellias that were in bloom.

As many of you are aware, the two-day sale was held entirely outdoors in an effort to reduce the likelihood of exposing attendees and sales staff to COVID-19. With just one exception, all attendees wore face masks and were good about observing social-distancing. Finally, I tip my hat to the outstanding performance of our volunteers and staff who helped conduct the sale on both Friday and Saturday.

We are now entering arguably the most beautiful time of year at the gardens as the camellias begin to bloom. Several sasanquas including Sparkling Burgundy, Mine-No-Yuki and Stephanie Golden, along with the hiemalis species Kanjiro, have been blooming for some time. Also, earlier blooming japonicas, reticulatas and hybrids are starting to show color including Star Above Star, Sultana, Allie Gordy, October Affair, Betty Ridley, Fimbriata, Spring’s Promise and Egao. In the Wilmot Botanical Gardens alone there are now more than 400 camellias to enjoy. Another 225 camellias can be viewed at seven additional sites on the UF campus. Visitors are directed to the Wilmot Botanical Gardens website for a detailed list of those camellias that can be found at each location.

We are now entering our third and hopefully final year of the camellia relocation project. Our goal in the second year was to relocate approximately 100 camellias from the former Gordy private collection in Ocala, Florida, to the Wilmot Botanical Gardens and to transplant another 235 cultivars to various locations on the main campus. Regrettably, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to curtail those efforts prematurely. Thus, we failed to achieve our second-year goals. At this writing, we have dug and transported another 94 camellias to UF and have just 15 more to relocate. Actual planting will begin very soon. I am pleased to announce that this effort is being supported in part through a grant received recently from the Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund.

We are now in the planning stage for the development of the extreme southeast corner of the gardens. A concept design for a “reflective shade garden” has been provided by David Connor and Associates of Tampa, Florida. Permission has been received from the UF Lakes, Vegetation and Landscaping committee to remove some trees at the site as we move forward with the project that has an estimated cost of approximately $150,000. Present plans call for the construction of this new garden in stages. Initially, a sidewalk will be built along the south edge of the site that will connect with the main north-south walkway that runs along the east side of the gardens. This will provide ADA access to the area. A small patio overlooking the entire site will be added on the north side of the new sidewalk to accommodate the addition of a wheelchair-accessible table that will also provide seating for three additional people. As funds are acquired subsequent stages of construction will proceed.

As we approach the holiday season the staff at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous new year.

C. Craig Tisher, M.D.
Director, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine