In Full Bloom

A garden is a place where things take root and grow. It’s a place where hard work and care yields beautiful results. And it’s a place where people can gather their thoughts, nurture ideas and refresh their spirits.

So, it’s no surprise that five years after its inception as a landscape design class project, Kilgore Garden is blooming as a hub for learning and building community, thanks in part to a new partnership between the Horticulture Club and NC State University’s grounds horticulture crew.

“Especially for students that are in horticulture that maybe do not have their own garden at home, this is an opportunity to just learn those hands-on skills,” says Brady Farlow, president of the Horticulture Club, who is double majoring in horticultural science and Spanish. 

During scheduled volunteer days, club members work alongside horticulturists with the grounds crew to plant, weed, mulch, water and prune to keep this gem of a garden in tiptop shape.

“It’s just a nice, relaxing place that a lot of people don’t know about on campus and it’s surprisingly right beside Hillsborough Street,” says Farlow. “It’s just this little haven.”

But it’s taken time for the garden to reach its full potential not only  as a refined landscape but also as a living lab where everyone who wants to try their hand at gardening is welcome.

a student rakes gravel to remove weeds
Horticultural science student Andrea Garcia-Guerrero.
Horticultural science student Norma Hernandez-Cruz with Brady Farlow.

Growing an Idea

In the fall of 2019 Julieta Sherk, a faculty member in the Department of Horticultural Science, assigned the students in her landscape design/build class to envision something new for the undeveloped terrain outside Kilgore Hall, which houses horticultural science.

The students offered myriad ideas which eventually coalesced around the concept of creating a garden with a gathering space and wildlife-friendly features, as well as three rain garden cells to address stormwater issues.

“It was a lot of work with a lot of people contributing to it, including plant donations, stone donations, and collaborations from industry and campus construction services,” says Sherk, noting that industry partners including Taylor’s Nursery, Mellow Marsh Farm, and Plant Delights Nursery contributed materials and plants. “The results beautifully showcase the horticultural science department’s role in these critical things that happen in the landscape.”

Courtney Eads, a horticultural supervisor with NC State Facilities, and her horticulture team have supported the garden from the beginning. It’s a partnership that she says has provided a place for the community to enjoy.

“I think they’ve done a great job of bringing a different design and landscape aspect onto campus,” Eads says.

Horticultural Specialist Brady Hedgecock, who majored in horticultural science at NC State, remembers when Sherk and her students first broke ground on the garden. Now, Hedgecock finds working to maintain the garden and watching it blossom into a hub for horticulture rewarding and impactful.

“It’s a stimulating garden for the students. It’s a stimulating garden for us working in the garden and I think it’s a more stimulating design for passersby,” he says. “It’s a joy to look at and it has a lot of seasonal interests and I think we could learn a lot from that going forward.”

And people are learning from and contributing to the garden. Horticultural faculty member Remi Ham often brings her students from her herbaceous perennials class to Kilgore Garden to incorporate plants they grew. Other faculty like Elisabeth Meyer and Brian Jackson contribute plants from their classes and research. Many classes like plant ID,  planting design, and grading and drainage come to see some of the plants and techniques in practice. Meanwhile, horticultural researchers Denny Werner and Tom Ranney donate plants from their breeding programs, and Diane Mays, plant curator with the university’s Fox Conservatory, also regularly provides leftover annual plants from production classes.

“Lots of people have love for this garden and ownership of this garden,” Sherk says.

a garden with green and purple shrubs and a brick walkway
Conceived in 2019, Kilgore Garden is a hub for horticultural science students and faculty.

Community Gardening

It’s that unmistakable love for Kilgore Garden that caught student Jerry Yu’s attention.

As the activities chairperson for the Horticulture Club, Yu, a junior double-majoring in horticultural science and statistics, wanted to support Kilgore Garden in a more organized way. He worked with Farlow and Sherk this semester to develop volunteer days through the club to offer hands-on experience to more students and provide more help with the garden’s maintenance.

“As someone who’s struggled a lot with anxiety and very stressful amounts of coursework, I really value our department’s focus on the value that plants can bring to people’s mental health and horticultural therapy and being able to experience gardening and nature,” says Yu. “That’s part of our club’s purpose as well, to connect people and just show them the beauty that plants bring into the world.”

On a cool morning in March, Yu and Farlow worked alongside other horticultural club members to freshen up the garden for spring.

“I think it’s so peaceful,” says Andrea Garcia-Guerrero, a freshman horticultural science major. “It gives me a break from schoolwork and some hands-on experience working with other students and working in different environments.”

“I just wanted to help out and do a little bit of my part to help keep it nice,” adds Norma Hernandez-Cruz, a junior horticultural science major, who has visited the garden with her plant identification class.

As he plucked weeds from one of the garden’s beds, Farlow couldn’t wait to see the garden at the height of spring. “I‘m a big flower person — I think they bring so much happiness and I just love to see what’s blooming.”

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.