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Smithgall Woodland Gardens nears groundbreaking

Ceremony set for April 17

POSTED: April 1, 2013 12:17 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Smithgall Woodland Gardens greenhouse and nursery manager Ethan Guthrie works with plants Friday in the greenhouse, getting many plants prepared for the upcoming Hall County Master Gardeners Spring Plant Expo.

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In the next few months, the years of dreaming about opening the Smithgall Woodland Gardens in Gainesville will begin to come true.

The garden, a satellite of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, will have a groundbreaking ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. April 17.

The 168-acre tract off Cleveland Highway was donated to the Atlanta Botanical Garden in 2001 by Lessie Smithgall and her late husband, Charles Smithgall.

“The groundbreaking is to celebrate Mr. Charles Smithgall and Lessie’s dream of preserving this land in perpetuity as a natural woodland garden for the community,” said Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

The timing of the ceremony is also set to honor Lessie Smithgall’s 102nd birthday, which is today.

“We’re thrilled and excited that it’s close enough to her birthday that it’ll be a good birthday present for her,” said Mildred

Fockele, vice president of horticulture.

The garden is expected to open to the public in 2014.

The first phase of construction will include the entry way, Sweet Bay Drive, parking lots, a visitors center and a 2,000-seat amphitheater. Two gardens, the water garden and the wind garden, will also be started. Once the first phase is complete, the leaders in the garden project will immediately begin fundraising for the construction of an interactive children’s garden.

The buildings and roads are expected to take up about 15 acres, leaving more than 150 acres for walking trails and the woodland gardens.

Fundraising for the project has been ongoing for a number of years and has met its match requirement to receive the $2.5 million Robert W. Woodruff Foundation grant.

Matheson said she expects to have the final cost estimate of the garden by the end of the month.

Fockele said the staff working on and planning the garden has done a nice job of taking advantage of the garden’s natural characteristics — its shade, sun and topography.

“We’ve been working really hard on the planting plan and we’re excited about the beautiful garden we’re going to be able to create,” Fockele said.

Fockele said there are currently more than 320 different plants being grown in the greenhouse and nursery that will be used in the garden.

“That’s just a small part of the plants we’ll be using in the garden,” Fockele said. “We’re real excited to be able to create a beautiful garden that has interesting and unusual plants in it.”

The garden is expected to be a cultural landmark.

Researchers from colleges and universities will use the garden to grow and study unusual plants and those that once but no longer grow in Georgia.

The more than 20,000 members of the botanical garden also will be members of the Smithgall garden, and vice versa.

Fockele said the community is fortunate to be able to witness the beginning of the garden and its development in the coming years.

“It’s a really unique opportunity and a moment in our history to be able to be a part of this groundbreaking and watch the first phase take off,” Fockele said.


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