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Supporters get preview of Smithgall Woodland Legacy garden
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville set to open next May
Lessie Smithgall, center, talks with Anne Thomas, right, and Lianne Daniel about a portrait of her late husband Charles Smithgall, which was on display at the preview event Friday night in Gainesville. The Atlanta Botanical Garden held the event to thank members of the board and donors for their help creating the Smithgall Woodland Legacy garden. - photo by Michelle Boaen Jameson

Supporters and local dignitaries gathered Friday at a preview party and reception to celebrate the anticipated May 2015 opening of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville: A Smithgall Woodland Legacy.

Land for the 168-acre site just north of Gainesville was donated by Lessie Smithgall and her late husband Charles, founders of The Times. A portrait of Charles Smithgall was displayed at the garden’s visitors center Friday, which also marked his birthday.

Lessie Smithgall, 103, attended the event and drew a crowd of well-wishers and friends as she made her way through the visitors center.

About 75 people toured the facility and walked the grounds.

Atlanta Botanical Garden CEO and president Mary Pat Matheson thanked donors and supporters of the project. She stressed the need to preserve such natural beauty in a fast-growing area, “because you’re losing your trees.”

“Economic development is always a challenge, but this will be here in perpetuity,” she said.

Matheson said the spring opening would include a concert at the Ivester Amphitheater, named for benefactors Doug and Kay Ivester of Gainesville, that “will wake up the community and the state of Georgia.”

The garden also will be host to festivals, a children’s camp, a garden train exhibit next summer and the Imaginary World of Legos.

“We are bringing two communities together,” she said.

Jack Burd, retired president of Brenau University who has led the garden’s fundraising efforts, echoed those sentiments.

“The garden is one garden,” he told the crowd. “We’re just a few miles apart.”