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

Fig 1

There has been a great deal of activity at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens since the last quarterly newsletter in December of 2022. One construction project has been completed, a second is close to completion and two more are in the planning stages. Weather has also impacted the gardens in a negative manner with two major events. The three days with periods of sustained freezing temperatures severely damaged annuals and perennials, our staghorn and elkhorn ferns (even though all were wrapped in freeze cloth) and, of course, those camellias that were in bloom. We are slowly recovering from the damage. The second event involved a large diseased tree adjacent to the ditch that was blown down sometime during the second weekend of January (Fig 1). Unfortunately, three camellias were destroyed and a magnolia tree was severely damaged by the fallen tree.

Fig 2

            At your next visit to the gardens you will see that several of the previously mulched and muddy secondary pathways on the east side of the gardens have now been upgraded with the addition of brick pavers. Now it is possible to walk from the east end of the bridge to the main north-south walkway on the east side of the gardens without acquiring mud on your shoes! Extensive plantings including azaleas, camellias and variegated liriope are being added along the new walkways (Fig 2).

Fig 3

            A major addition to the northeast corner of the garden in the form of a specialty garden has been under construction since early January. Upon completion visitors will enter the garden via a circular brick walkway that leads to a brick paver patio. A pergola will cover the patio and seating will be provided by a pair of facing benches. Extensive plantings including ground cover, grasses, a variety of shrubs, sabal palms, and river birch and red maple trees will surround this beautiful garden destination. The project has been designed and is being constructed and funded by members of the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) and honors Mr. Ben Bolusky, the recently retired CEO of the organization. Special recognition is afforded to Mr. Mike Gianikas, Landscapes Unlimited, whose leadership as the president of the FNGLA Front runners Chapter, with the support of other local chapter members, was especially important to the success of this project. In addition, we wish to thank the many FNGLA members state-wide for their support of the project.

            The BJ and Eve Wilder Therapeutic Horticultural Garden remains on schedule for construction to begin in the late fall of 2023. The initial concept designs were reviewed with our architects in late February and several suggestions were made by our Wilmot Botanical Gardens team to enhance the usefulness of the new garden. We anticipate that the review of the revised design will occur later this month.

            The last construction project on the drawing board is the addition of a statue of Hippocrates to be placed in the Hippocratic Garden. The statue consists of a 30-inch bronze bust of Hippocrates created by the sculptor, Vangelis Llias, in his studio in Athens, Greece. This commissioned life-size bust will set atop a 4.5ft pillar carved from Pentelic marble. Together the bust and the pillar will stand approximately 7ft in height. The addition of the sculpture to the Hippocratic Garden will serve to underscore the continued importance of the principles of Hippocrates in our teaching and clinical care at the University of Florida. Donations to the Wilmot Botanical Gardens are being accepted at the present time to help defray the cost of this magnificent work of art. (Fig 3)

Fig 4
Fig 5

            In concert with this initiative, we have continued our effort to disseminate to other medical schools in the southeast, cuttings grown from the original Hippocratic tree planted on our medical campus in 1969. To date, 8 medical schools have received their Hippocratic tree and many have already been planted on their respective medical school campuses. This effort will continue as we grow additional cuttings this year to share next fall.

            As surprising as it may seem there is no record of a camellia that has been named for Royal James “Roy” Wilmot. This individual who died unexpectedly at the relatively young age of 52 years was recognized throughout the United States and abroad for his major contributions to the propagation and classification of camellias. He also served as the first secretary and yearbook editor for the American Camellia Society from 1945 to 1950. I am pleased to share with you the good news that this oversight has been corrected. A very special camellia grown by Mark Crawford of the Loch Laurel Nursery in Valdosta, Georgia and derived from the Gordy Camellia Garden in Ocala, Florida has been donated and planted at our gardens. It will be registered with the American Camellia Society as the “Royal James Wilmot” camellia later this year. We thank Mark Crawford for this gift that serves to recognize the many accomplishments of Wilmot (Fig 4 & 5).

            Finally, our annual Spring Plant Sale is now underway as you read this message. The pre-sale component began on March 3rd and will conclude on April 6th. The outside sale at the gardens will be held on Friday, April 14th and Saturday, April 15th. Hope to see you at the sale!

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