A local landscape architect who has worked on several high-profile projects in Charlottesville says botanical gardens remind people of the connections between plants and humans.

“[Botanical gardens] become more and more important as people become detached from the land,” said Warren Byrd of the firm Nelson, Byrd & Woltz. He is currently working on a landscape plan for Montalto for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Warren Byrd (left) and Helen Flamini (right)

Helen Flamini, executive director of the non-profit McIntire Botanical Garden, invited Byrd to speak about the benefits of such facilities in order to boost her project’s chances of being considered as part of the future of McIntire Park . A master plan for the eastern side of the park will be developed when the full design of the Meadowcreek Parkway and its interchange with U.S. Route 250 is complete.

The controversial roadway is planned to be built along the eastern edge of the park, though the exact date for construction remains to be determined as the project goes through the federal regulatory process. Flamini said of the 68 acres on the east side of the park, 25 will be used for the parkway, leaving 40 acres for a botanical garden to occupy.

Flamini said the west side of the park is already programmed for recreational activities, leaving an opening for a more passive experience. Referring to the many “Save McIntire Park” signs that are posted around Charlottesville, Flamini said the botanical garden would preserve and enhance the area’s natural beauty.

“We want it to be for future generations who will come time and time again to be awed by the beauty and experience of the breath-taking garden that will be open to everyone,” Flamini said.

One of the people who attended Byrd’s talk was Jim Moore of the Save McIntire Golf Committee , a citizen group supporting the existing McIntire Park Municipal Golf Course. He said he is not against botanical gardens, but feels McIntire Park is an inappropriate location. Moore also wants more specifics on what Flamini wants to build.

“It’s difficult to really comment on the garden when they haven’t presented a plan,” Moore said.  He said his group would continue to advocate for the preservation of the golf course, which he said makes a profit for the city.

In his presentation, Byrd said he wished the garden could co-exist with the golf course, but said such a design would be an “enormous challenge.” Though he told the audience he was neutral about the future of the course, he said McIntire Park would be a good location for a botanical garden. For example, replacing the course’s grassy fairways with wildflowers and other plans would create habitats for wildlife.

Byrd said the ultimate goal is to educate people about the relationships between plants and humans. For instance, an on-site café could use ingredients harvested from the garden.

In general, Byrd said the garden would help improve the park systems of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

“The best of our great cities have these connected park systems that include public gardens,” Byrd said. The park is only one mile away from Charlottesville’s downtown mall.

Byrd said he is not connected to McIntire Botanical Garden in any way, but did admit his firm would like to win the contract to design and build the facility. He estimated a design would cost as much as $250,000 but said actual construction could cost many millions of dollars.

Lonnie Murray

Another group is also working to build a botanical garden in Charlottesville. Lonnie Murray of the non-profit Charlottesville Botanical Garden told Flamini that he would be willing to merge with Flamini’s group.  He said his group is primarily interested in preserving the area’s rare species before they are lost.

“We’re facing a real crisis situation,” Murray said. He added that he would want a botanical garden to have a research component as well.