Georgia Southern’s Botanical Gardens Grow for the Future

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Thomas Barszcz

Imagine a place where modern design meets environmentally-friendly design. Now imagine that place has free admission for students, has Wi-Fi and provides the opportunity to learn something new in a relaxing and beautiful natural ecosystem.

That place exists. It’s Georgia Southern’s very own botanical gardens and it’s currently expanding.

The GS Botanical Gardens, which extends over eleven acres, is located on 1505 Bland Ave., and has existed as a part of GS ever since it was donated to the university by the Bland family in 1985.

Over the years, the gardens have grown in size and beauty through several expansion and restoration projects alike. As of now, the gardens are undergoing one of their most promising restoration projects yet.

You may or may not have noticed new wooden fencing on the side of Georgia Avenue. That is the new perimeter fencing installed for the gardens as a part of their new restoration project that began this past summer.

The project, which is titled “Aspire!”, is the result of years of planning and adjusting to a master plan that was created by the director of the gardens, Carolyn Altman and associate director Bob Randolph.

“We’re calling this campaign ‘Aspire!’ because we’re aspiring to do great things,” Altman said.

The “great things” Altman is referring to entail rearranging several structures that have previously been in the gardens and also constructing new editions to it.

A plan for growth

The project is separated into three phases.

Phase one, which is well underway, involves building a new fence, creating a new parking area and establishing a new service center for the staff.

It also involves setting up a nursery with a greenhouse for education purposes which will be known as the Grow Zone. It will be an all access area for visitors to learn how to grow certain plants and also maintain a garden.

Phase two entails creating a new entrance with a gateway to the gardens which will be surrounded by trees and ponds.

After phases one and two are finished, Altman and Randolph want to make progress on the third stage which consists of building several communal areas like a council ring, a labyrinth and a showcase area for art from GS art department to be on display.

There are also future plans to build a tower within the gardens so visitors can get a 360-degree view of the entire grounds.

“Everything we’re doing is to bring in more students and more people not just locally but also regionally,” Randolph said.

Behind the scenes

The reason the grounds are so well maintained and a project like “Aspire!” can be actualized is because of the support that Altman and Rudolph get from their staff and donors.

“We’re doing the things we can do within our means,” Randolph said.

They currently have a crew of eight GS students who are all employed to maintain the grounds by any means necessary.

“We really depend on them. They’re a great crew,” Altman said.

That includes gardening, landscaping, planting, any maintenance that is needed and building the new fence that was part of phase one.

Junior logistics major Aaron Todd has been working for the gardens since last August and shared his perspectives about being employed by the gardens.

“I’ve never been a gardener or done horticulture but I’m starting to take an interest in it,” Todd said.

Freshman exercise science major Hayden Grahm has only been working for the gardens just over a month but shows enthusiasm about his new role with the grounds.

“We like to take on new projects. You learn something new every day,” Grahm said.

Making it possible

Beside their dedicated staff, Altman and Randolph must reach out to the community for funding anything they need.

“The vast majority of improvement projects here at the gardens are funded by private donations or grants,” Altman said.

They also received funds from the GS Center for Sustainability to establish the “Grow Zone” in phase one.

This project has a lot of potential and the expected outcome of the gardens looks like it can offer a lot to GS students. The grounds will have areas for students to relax, study with free wifi and be able to learn about the environment of Statesboro’s natural surroundings.

Students can support the gardens by signing up for a membership, hosting events on the grounds or even just go to walk around and enjoy the beauty of it all.

Altman said, “Come over, study, and walk around. It’s your garden.”

Photo courtesy of Perkins+Will Landscape Architecture.