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Work on Smithgall Garden may begin this spring
Site scheduled to open in 2014
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After years of fundraising efforts and planning, the Smithgall Woodland Garden is set to break ground in the spring.

According to Mary Pat Matheson, Atlanta Botanical Garden’s executive director, the project should begin in late March or early April. The garden will be a satellite of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

The first phase of construction will include the entrance drive, parking lots, visitors center and a 2,000-seat amphitheater. Later phases will include the construction of a waterfall garden, nature trails and an interactive children’s garden.

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

Matheson said the garden likely will open in 2014.

The fundraising goals for the garden have not yet been met however. Another $650,000 still needs to be raised to claim the $2.5 million Robert W. Woodruff Foundation grant.

John Burg, fundraising consultant, said the garden hopes to find help through other foundations in the Atlanta area.

He said costs for the first phase are a bit more than originally projected but enough funds have been raised and pledged to provide enough money to complete the work.

Once the garden has opened, the amphitheater will be used for events such as concerts and graduations. The visitors center and lawn will be available for weddings and other private events.

Matheson said the garden will be a wonderful addition to the Gainesville community.

“It’s great to be building a new garden in a new community,” Matheson said. “Hall County and Gainesville are so committed to being really green and having great green space. People are also really interested in arts and culture and I think the garden is going to add to that.”

Several of the programs like special art exhibits, classes and summer concerts offered at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens also will be offered at Smithgall Woodland Garden.

Any household with a membership for the botanical garden also will be a member of the Smithgall garden, and vice versa.

Burg said he believes the garden will be “one of the finest things that has ever happened to Gainesville.”

In addition to being a cultural landmark, he said the garden will be used for scientific research by universities and colleges. Researchers will use the garden to grow and study unusual plants and those that once but no longer grow in Georgia.

“This is going to be a major attraction for people all over the world who are interested in flora and fauna of the whole southeastern United States,” Burg said.

The garden already boasts more than 220 different magnolia trees and hundreds of hydrangeas.

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

Burg said the groundbreaking is planned to coincide with Lessie Smithgall’s 102nd birthday April 1.

“They want this to be representative to her and let her see that something is finally going to get done,” Burg said.

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