Perspectives Online

Off the Beaten Path. In Brunswick County, a destination garden takes shape. By Anton Zuiker.

David Barkley, Brunswick County horticulture agent, coordinated the creation of the Brunswick County Botanical Garden – a tourist attraction, demonstration garden for landscapers and living classroom for Master Gardener candidates and others. (Photos by Becky Kirkland)
David Barkley (above), Brunswick County horticulture agent, coordinated the creation of the Brunswick County Botanical Garden - a tourist attraction, demonstration garden for landscapers and living classroom for Master Gardener candidates and others.
(Photos by Becky Kirkland)
U.S. route 17 Business through tiny Bolivia, in coastal Brunswick County, sees surfers returning to Wilmington from the nearby beaches and hungry visitors stopping at Brad’s Grill, a shack painted hot pink. But there’s green on both sides of the road, too: This is a verdant corner of North Carolina.

Horticulture Extension Agent David Barkley wants to capitalize on that. Tapping the agritourism trend, Barkley coordinated the creation of a welcoming little demonstration garden. Surrounded by a cluster of county buildings just outside Bolivia, it was completed and dedicated in early June. It includes a waterfall, a meandering stream and a lily pond, as well as dozens of flowering plants and trees.

But how to coax passersby to stop and spend a moment in the garden?

Barkley hopes the garden will grow to include an interactive talking tree tour, a fitness trail, and bog and diversity gardens, among other attractions.
Barkley hopes the garden will grow to include an interactive talking tree tour, a fitness trail, and bog and diversity gardens, among other attractions.
(Photo by Becky Kirkland)
Barkley and the committee helping him started with the name. Originally, it was a memorial garden dedicated to the memory of David Denney, a president of the Brunswick County Master Gardener Volunteer Association, who died suddenly in July 2003. But a memorial garden reminds people of a graveyard, says Barkley, who had suggested it be called a landscape demonstration garden. And yet, “I don’t know many people who say, ‘Let’s go out to the demonstration garden,” says Barkley. The committee settled on the Brunswick Botanical Garden as a way to attract large numbers of visitors.

At its heart, the botanical garden is a demonstration garden, meant to show commercial landscapers and baffled new homeowners how to turn hardpan land from clay outcroppings into fertile landscapes and how an arbor and benches create a serene sanctuary.

“It opens up opportunities for education,” says Al Hight, a horticulture Extension agent for Brunswick County and a former professional landscaper. Using grass and ferns, he transformed a roadside ditch into a model for water runoff management. “Managing water is one of the things we have to do a better job with,” he says, noting that the plants take up and help to remove some of the nutrients the water has carried away.

Hight says landscaping is an easy business is get into, but not all landscapers bring a deep understanding of plant and water management. The new garden will give those inexperienced landscapers a place to pick up tips on how to be more successful with their work.

The botanical garden gives the Extension’s Master Gardener candidates a living classroom as well, says Barkley. The Master Gardeners will hone their plant propagation, pruning, insect management and plant identification knowledge here before they take the certification test.

Barkley’s been able to build the existing garden with the help of a skilled prison labor force from the New Hanover Correctional Center. “They worked like Trojans,” he says. Likewise, the Brunswick County Master Gardener Association put in ”sweat equity” during a number of Master Gardener volunteer workdays. They also assisted with the installation and day-to-day maintenance of the garden and raised money through plant sales.

Barkley has also recruited the help of volunteers, and he credits the fund-raising efforts of Brunswick County Extension Director Martha Warner, who arranged for $10,000 in donations and grants. She’ll need to keep busy raising more.

“It’s a small garden, but we have big visions,” says Barkley. The committee has plans for an interactive talking tree tour, a bog garden, a diversity garden and a fitness trail. “We’re just one more stop in this area,” he says. He’d like visitors to the area’s other gardens – most notably the popular Airlie Gardens in New Hanover County and Orton Plantation in Winnabow – to pull into Bolivia and take a break next to the waterfall.