Blooming with possibility: Wilson Botanical Gardens continue to educate

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Wilson Botanical Gardens closed for three months during the beginning of the COVID-19. Between Phase 1 of the stay-at-home order and Phase 2, the Master Gardeners came back to the gardens to work on the flower beds before reopening to the public.

The gardens are now open every day from dawn until dusk and are currently showing off their summer colors. Admission is free.

“August is still very much a part of the summertime plant season,” said Cyndi Lauderdale, horticulture extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. “Salvias really reach their peak in August, and in September we will start growing annual bedding plants for the gardens.”

For those looking ahead to fall, there will be a virtual garden talk titled “Planning the Fall Vegetable Gardening” at 3 p.m. on Aug. 17. Registration is required, but if you can’t watch the talk live, you can use a link to watch it the next day. Virtual talk registrations are handled by eventbrite.com, which will send you reminders before the day of the talk.

“I encourage people to go to the Wilson Botanical Garden’s Facebook page and register,” Lauderdale said, noting that recent talks have averaged between 40 and 50 viewers. “The talk will be presented by Selena McCoy, who was my intern a few years ago and is now an extension agent in Harnett County.”

A major draw to the Wilson Botanical Gardens has always been the Children’s Secret Garden, filled with flowers, vegetables, fruit, water features, musical gongs and sand play areas. There is even an area called the “Banana Split Sundae Garden,” which features banana plants, strawberries, blueberries and mint plants.

The Children’s Garden was one of the reasons Jennifer Braddock took her 5-year-old son, Ben, to the gardens one hot morning in July.

“We are in Wilson to bring my daughter to a horseback riding camp, and we were looking for something to do,” Braddock said. “We went to the Whirligig Park and were looking for other places to go and found these gardens.”

“The Whirligig Park is where a lot of garden visitors begin when visiting Wilson,” Lauderdale said. “The whirligigs probably bring them to Wilson, and they see another spot on Goldsboro Street which is less than a mile away from the park. The people I’ve spoken with have come to Wilson to make a day of it.”

Other areas of the botanical gardens include the Annual and Perennial Garden, Hosta Garden, Fence and Bird Garden, Show Stoppers Garden, Ornamental Grasses and Day Lilies, Native Plant Garden, Medicinal and Culinary Herbs, Pondside Garden and the STEM Garden (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

“The medicinal plants are from all over the world, but they are being grown here and are for all kinds of different illnesses,” said Will Lewis, an intern currently working in Wilson for the N.C. Cooperative Extension office. “For example, one is called the toothache plant from Brazil and another is the ashwagandha plant.”

The ashwagandha plant, traditionally grown in India, is an ancient medicinal herb that can reduce blood sugar levels, reduce cortisol levels, may help reduce stress and anxiety and may have anticancer properties.

With education comes testing, which is why the botanical gardens also feature a North Carolina Certified Professional Plant Display Garden.

“This particular garden contains plants that a certified landscape professional would have to be able to identify by sight, know the Latin name and potentially the cultivar, just to be able to show that they have knowledge in the field,” Lewis said.

“They need this to be able to get certification and be able talk to other professionals and be able to talk to the public. This is in addition to a written test that they take.”


Lauderdale said the gardens are planned as an educational site, but officials also want the site to be a place where people could give back to the community.

“We always want more volunteers and more Master Gardeners,” Lauderdale said. “Maybe some people think you have to be a Master Gardener to volunteer, but you don’t have to be. I will meet with you, and we’ll talk about what you can do.”

But if someone is interested in becoming a Master Gardener, the Wilson Cooperative Extension office is always accepting applications as people are interested. Master Gardener training involves 13 weeks of classes, with each class being three hours, going over all aspects of agricultural horticulture. You are required to have 40 hours of training the first year in order to volunteer. If the volunteer desires to come back after that first year, 20 hours of training are required each successive year.

“I’m looking at having a new class starting up in the fall, but it depends on enough people signing up,” Lauderdale said. “I have to abide by guidelines regarding social distancing, and even if did the training outside, we would be at the mercy of the weather.”

Lauderdale’s last Master Gardener class members were required to finish their studies online when the COVID-19 virus shut things down.

“We finished up the class via Zoom,” Lauderdale said. “We lost some of the practical, hands-on experience, but I encouraged them to do homework projects.”

For more information about the Wilson Botanical Gardens, visit its Facebook page or call 252-237-0113.