After nearly a decade of seeding the idea for a botanical garden in Charlottesville’s McIntire Park, the nonprofit group responsible for building the institution finally had the chance earlier this month to sow its first actual seeds.
“We planted the first permanent plants with a beautiful tree, a dozen perennial holly-type shrubs around the sign at the corner of the John Warner Parkway and Melbourne Road,” said Peter McIntosh, the president of the McIntire Botanical Garden.
“It was real nice to see us putting things that are going to be there for a long period of time,” McIntosh said.
The McIntire Botanical Garden was formed in 2008 to advance the idea of using a portion of city land for passive recreation.
The group worked for years to convince the city to agree to phase out the use of the eastern side of McIntire Park as a golf course after construction of the John W. Warner Parkway.
Their work paid off when the Charlottesville City Council approved a master plan for the eastern half of McIntire Park in March 2015 and allotted 8.5 acres for the botanical garden to operate.
Later that year, the city entered into a formal agreement with the nonprofit that set the terms by which the garden will be planned, designed and built.
An initial sign was installed last December, and this year the organization began to hold its own events in that section of the park.
McIntosh said the garden held butterfly walks to get people into the park, and other guided tours will be held in the future.
“It’s been unavailable for most people in the Charlottesville community for so long, and getting people in the park is one of our goals for 2017,” McIntosh said.
“People have a growing enthusiasm for the project simply because they could see that, with this piece of property, there is so much potential to create something really useful and beautiful,” board member Linda Seaman said.
About 15 volunteers with background in plants and landscapes participated in a “bio-blitz” earlier this year.
“A bio-blitz is basically going in there and identifying all the various species of flora, both the invasive species and the natural,” McIntosh said. “Now we have a survey that is available and that was done by partnering with master naturalists in Charlottesville.”
That work is informing the development of a request for proposals for a landscape architectural firm to design the garden.
The group will enter into a year of heavy fundraising in 2017 to help the group pay for both the architectural design, as well as the eventual construction.
“It’s going to take significant resources,” Seaman said.
Seaman said fundraising will be helped by the successful completion of fundraising for the skate park that will share the eastern side of McIntire Park. That project is now out to bid.
“It’s hard to raise money for two ends of the same park,” Seaman said.
The Brooks Family YMCA is also expected to open on the western side of the park in the early summer of 2017.
Seaman said the garden’s arrangement with the city is an example of a public-private partnership.
“Public-private partnerships are becoming closer to the norm in developing new city amenities,” Seaman said. “That’s what’s going on with the YMCA. That’s what’s going on with the skate park.”
McIntire said that, when finished, the botanical garden will be a central place for area residents to take in for rest and recreation to reduce stress.
“Not many cities have 54 acres smack-dab in the middle for this kind of passive recreation and enjoyment of nature,” McIntosh said. “We’re hoping we can offer a very unique Piedmont-oriented experience to people. It takes time to get there.”
Dorothy Tompkins will succeed McIntosh as board president next year.
Seaman said she is also hopeful there can be some clearing of invasive species in 2017.
“We are now well on course to set our sails on a new year with some exciting things to get accomplished,” said Seaman.