By Helen Newling Lawson
Six free visitor parking spaces are available directly across the street from the McMillan Greenhouse on Facilities Drive. You will need to get a temporary 4-hour hang tag from the
Parking and Transportation Services (PATS) office, which is located directly opposite these parking spaces. Make sure you hang this from your rearview mirror before heading to the garden.
Six spaces may not sound like a lot, but most garden visitors are students and faculty who are already on campus and most on foot. When I visited mid-day on Thursday, at least half the spaces were empty. If they are full when you visit, you can find additional parking in East Deck 1 and the Union Deck.
You can find these using the campus map (http://facilities.uncc.edu/sites/facilities.uncc.edu/files/media/Maps/Uncc_Parking_Map.pdf), which will also show the location of the Garden. The Union Deck is down Craver Road past the greenhouse, best accessed by turning right onto Cameron Blvd. The East Deck is located behind the Van Landingham Glen portion of the Garden. Both are about a six-minute walk from the entrance. Be sure to watch your speed and look out for pedestrians (aka sleep-deprived students looking at their phones) on campus.
You’ll enter the Garden through the McMillan Greenhouse, an unassuming building housing the working operations of the University’s horticulture department, including research and community outreach programs. The only bathrooms are located to the right inside the laboratory area. I felt as if I were intruding into a private area but, since no one batted an eye when I dropped in they must be accustomed to frequent visitors.
To the left, you can enter the greenhouse. First stop is the Orchid Room. The greenhouse might be a utilitarian backdrop, and some plants are either being propagated
or simply arrayed in rows, but they’ve also put together some lovely displays of mixed plantings. And of course, the orchids are stunning on their own, and the extensive collection should make this a rewarding trip if you are passionate about orchids. As a fun touch, someone with a dual art/horticulture major (or just a sense of humor) has hidden little figurines among some of the plants in the greenhouse, including some astronauts in cactus display. See if you can find them!
Moving on, you’ll find collections of begonias, fuchsias, caladium, and other colorful, exotic choices. This is also where they propagate plants for the Garden. Across a small courtyard, creative displays can be found in the Dinosaur Room, Tropical Fruit and Spice Room, and Desert Room.
To access the rest of the surprisingly extensive and utterly lovely Garden, you’ll exit out the back of the greenhouse and cross a street. The congested center block of campus suddenly opens into a rolling, forested landscape with a series of distinct yet cohesive garden areas.
Susie Harwood Garden
This three-acre garden is richly planted with ornamental plants, particularly imported species fro
m China and Japan. Many of these are traditional Southern favorites, including camellia and azalea. The garden also features a hydrangea loop, Dogwood Knoll, a dwarf conifer collection, a butterfly garden, and the Palm Dell. The exquisite landscaping includes a large central pond, several bridges, and a gazebo, interspersed with benches along the pathways (they recommend about an hour to tour this section of the garden).
Be sure to continue to the Asian Garden at the far end (or the beginning, if you can find the East Entrance).
Mellichamp Natives Terrace
Located within the Susie Harwood Garden, this area that “welcomes native plants home” is not to be missed. Designed as a demonstration garden to showcase the beauty, versatility, and ecological role of native plants, this is not a “weedy” wildflower patch. Large brick-edged terraces and stone walkways link well-designed planting beds filled with colorful blooms, grasses, and evergreens like dwarf wax myrtle. The hardscape and thoughtful plant placement proves that native plants have a place in any type of landscape, even formal gardens.
Van Landingham Glen: A garden of native plants of the Carolinas
The map states “The Glen was created in a preserved natural forest of oak-hickory-maple, the oldest trees are about 200 years old, most are younger than 100.” Although you can still hear sounds of modern life if you listen hard, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the forest hush surrounds you as you enter. A quaint cabin, seemingly a relic from the early settlers of the region, stands just a few steps inside the Glen. A placard tells its true age, dating it to the early 1970s, when it served as a professor’s study.
From the cabin, crossing paths give you the option to wander narrow forest paths or take the Grand Loop. Either way, you’ll encounter a variety of native flora, including rhododendron, big leaf
magnolia, hardwoods, flowering understory trees, pines, hemlock, ferns, and spring wildflowers. You’ll also find a bog garden, coastal plain area, and small meadow.
As you wander more than a mile of trails over the seven acre Glen, you’ll gain a true sense of the variety and richness of the Carolinas’ native plants.
Overall, the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens beautifully fulfill their mission of “Sharing the World of Plants With People.”
Part display garden, part working greenhouse, black plastic pots are interspersed with eye-catching specimens in the McMillan Greenhouse.
Throughout the greenhouse, you’ll find plants featured in the book Bizarre Botanicals, including Goldfish Plant (Nematanthus).
The promise of the Dinosaur Room might entice even reluctant young visitors to join you on your botanical tour.
The looping gravel trails of the Susie Harwood Garden bring you through a series of ornamental gardens, each packed with plants and offering benches to enjoy the view.
Beds filled with flowers and humming with pollinators are made orderly with hardscaping in the Mellichamp Native Plant Terrace.
The Moon Gate frames a view of the Asian Garden, a restful spot in the middle of a bustling campus.
Ponds, streams, and waterfalls bring movement, sound, and reflection throughout the garden.
From the Gazebo Entrance, you are welcomed into the Van Landingham Glen with this attractive display of native plants.
Deeper into the forest, a canopy of hardwoods filters light to shade-loving rhododendron and spring ephemerals.
9090 Craver Road
Charlotte, NC 28262
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