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

Dr. C. Craig Tisher

As 2021 draws to a close it seems only fitting to provide a brief review of some of the more significant events that have occurred at the gardens since last January. Some were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and, regrettably, uncertainties regarding the future still remain. One might characterize the past 18 months as a wild roller coaster ride with many ups and downs and twists and turns. Just this past week the newest known virus mutation, Omicron, was reported from South Africa and several patients have been reported already in the United States.  It remains to be seen whether another spike in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, this time due to the Omicron variant, will be seen in our country.  One might ask if normalcy in our lives is just beyond our reach once again.

Despite continuation of the pandemic, the final year of the camellia relocation project involving the private collection of Lillian and Clarence Gordy recently of Ocala, Florida continued in full swing in January.  The last of 203 camellias, Alba Plena, was transplanted at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens on Saturday, March 20th. Previously, another 307 cultivars were planted at 9 additional sites on the UF campus. The vast majority have adapted nicely to their new surroundings.

In April a very successful 6th annual spring plant sale was conducted at the gardens despite the necessity to incorporate several accommodations to minimize exposure to COVID-19.  As a result of a new collaboration with members of the Gainesville Camellia Society, we were able to offer a nice variety of camellias at the sale. We thank John Swanson, Jerry Hogsette and Irma Velez for providing the camellias and look forward to continuing this relationship at future spring plant sales at the gardens.

Northwest view of the Southeast Commons pre-construction

Also in April a construction project was initiated in the southeast corner of the gardens, an area that previously had been largely undeveloped. An existing brick paver walkway on the south edge of the area was extended westward to connect with the main north-south sidewalk that runs on the east side of the gardens. A small patio overlooking the entire area was added to accommodate a wheel-chair accessible picnic table, and ten large camellias from the Gordy collection were transplanted around the periphery of the site. This was followed by filling and grading of the remaining space in preparation for installation of irrigation and laying of sod. The project was completed successfully in early June. This area now called the Southeast Commons is readily accessible and used extensively by staff, students, faculty and visitors.

In late May the staff and volunteers at the gardens welcomed Ms. Allison Burns, Administrative Specialist II, as our new business manager. Allison along with Steve Pritchett, our Botanical Gardens Supervisor, held the fort while yours truly spent the summer in South Dakota.

Northwest view of the Southeast Commons during construction

Planning also began in the early fall for our 7th annual fall plant sale that took place on November 19th and 20th.  As in the past a wonderful selection of camellias for both the pre-sale and actual sale days was provided by Mark Crawford of Loch Laurel Nursery in Valdosta, GA.  Again, the sale was very successful thanks in large part to the many dedicated volunteers and staff who support this initiative with their time and talents each year.  As in the past, half of the proceeds will be used to cover the cost of maintenance and enhancement of the gardens and half to support the therapeutic horticulture program.

Many of our activities and their associated expenses are supported through gifts from private donors and outside foundations. I am pleased to report that the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust has funded our recent grant request to purchase an electric utility vehicle for use in the gardens. At present virtually all plant materials, fertilizer, mulch, irrigation supplies and hand tools used in the gardens are transported by hand or in wheel barrows throughout the property. Likewise, the constant removal of organic debris scattered throughout the gardens must be transported in a similar fashion to a single collection site for final disposition. We anticipate that the availability of this utility vehicle will greatly facilitate these activities, thus increasing the productivity of our staff and volunteers.

Northwest view of the Southeast Commons post-construction

We are now entering one of the most beautiful times of the year at the gardens as the camellias along with Encore azaleas begin to bloom. Some examples include the sasanquas, Yuletide, Stephanie Golden, Alabama Beauty and Mine-No-Yuki. The hiemalis, Kanjiro, is also in full bloom, along with Egao and Shibori-Egao, both of the species Vernalis. Earlier blooming japonicas, reticulatas and hybrids are just starting to show color including Brooke, Desire, Spring’s Promise, Mark Chason, and Fimbriata.  It is time to take a stroll through the gardens!

As we enter the holiday season the staff at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous New Year.

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