One of my favorite things about this column, in addition often to being the first to share the news about exciting new businesses coming to town, is to introduce you to businesses and venues that I consider "hidden jewels" of our community.
One of these gems is the Botanic Gardens at Georgia Southern University.
The 11-acre Garden was a gift to the university by the Bland family in 1985. It is a gift that continues to give back to the community in so many wonderful ways. The gardens have become a popular venue for events, including weddings, corporate gatherings and parties to celebrate every occasion. Many of us daily drive by the gardens that are nestled quietly just off of Fair Road near campus.
Have you ever actually taken the time to stop and wander through this amazing gem?
Every time I visit I am in awe of the growth and changes to the gardens. Several years ago, the leadership enlisted the help of well-known landscape architect Perkins+Will to develop a growth plan for the gardens. With this plan, the board of directors launched the $2 million "Aspire!" campaign. It is beginning to take shape and the improvements are stunning.
"The plan has allowed us to step back and look at the possibilities presented to us in the Botanic Gardens," said Botanic Gardens Director Carolyn Altman. "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 that 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. The third phase consists of building several communal areas and a showcase area for local art 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."
The Gardens depends upon gifts large and small to operate and continue their expansions. Many notable Statesboro families have made significant contributions to improve the Gardens.
Deen Day Smith Sanders and Charles and Sandra Chandler made the Heritage Pavilion possible. Jan Anderson and Glenn Eason donated the Oak Grove Schoolhouse and Major General William and Harriet Bland and Dr. James and Nancy Bland (relatives of Dan and Catharine Bland) have funded many of the iconic components of the Gardens, including the beloved Magnolia Gates.
It would take a full page or two to single out every family who has committed time, talents and funds to help the garden thrive.
However, some of the most critical funding to the Gardens come from small, annual gifts given by hundreds of families to support the Gardens. The "Sustainer" gift level of $125 or more provides a critical source of operating revenue for them. Along with these gifts come many benefits like admission to more than 140 gardens nationwide, special garden party invites and an early bird invitation to the annual plant sale.
The Gardens also provide an important educational component for teachers, students and the community, alike. Each year, thousands of school kids come to the Gardens, which offer a creative and fun way for students to learn.
I urge you to take some time this coming year and visit the Botanic Gardens to learn more about all the wonderful opportunities they provide for our community. Carolyn and her staff will be excited to see you and you will be pleasantly pleased to discover yet another wonderful "hidden" jewel in our community.