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Gainesville botanical garden renamed
The amphitheter inside the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville, is nearing completion.

The previously dubbed Smithgall Woodland Garden is now called the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville.

Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the garden, said there were several reasons for the change, the biggest being the need for clarity.

“When we started looking at branding the garden to the Atlanta Botanical Garden ... the more we tested the garden name, the more we realized there was going to be confusion over Smithgall Woods (State Park),” Matheson said. “We were very concerned that we were going to end up with visitors in Helen instead of Gainesville.”

Matheson said incorporating Gainesville into the name was important to create a sense of identity and location. Officials also wanted to highlight its connection to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

“The strength of the garden is the fact that the Atlanta Botanical Garden is designing, building and maintaining it and running the programs,” Matheson said.

The 168-acre site for the garden was donated in 2002 by Lessie Smithgall and her late husband, Charles, founders of the Times. Matheson said Smithgall gave her “full approval” for the renaming, and the garden will continue to credit the Smithgalls for their generosity.

“On the entry signs and when it’s appropriate, we’ll use a tagline that says “Smithgall Woodland Legacy,’” Matheson said. “The one thing we all know is that Mr. and Mrs. Smithgall have left this woodland legacy for the community and the state of Georgia.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony in April 2013, Lessie Smithgall said the garden is a “dream come true.”

“I know how excited Charlie would be, because it was his dream to create a woodland area close to the city where city folk could come and enjoy nature, hiking, swimming, even picnicking if they pick up their picnic trash and put it in the trash,” Smithgall said.

Not only will the garden operate under a new name, but the grand opening is postponed until spring 2015. Matheson said wet weather in the spring and early summer caused construction delays.

Matheson also said officials decided it would make more sense to open in time for the peak spring and summer seasons, versus just before winter.

The garden will do a small private opening for Smithgall, her family and friends and garden donors in October, followed by a grand opening in the spring.

“We’ll do an opening concert, some donor openings, we’ll have probably two days of festivals and we’ll also run an outdoor garden train exhibit, spring through fall,” she said.

The fall will also include a one-of-a-kind traveling exhibit featuring detailed flowers and creatures, constructed entirely of Legos.

“It’s really spectacular and been incredibly successful everywhere it’s gone,” she said.

The garden is designed to be one of the largest and most diverse woodland gardens in the U.S. Matheson said it would include a wooded drive that is taking shape now, a visitors’ center, outdoor deck, water lily pond, more than 4 acres of display gardens and an amphitheater to seat more than 2,000.

“This delay will allow the gardens to fill in nicely,” Matheson said. “And in the spring we can open with a great celebration.”