New Home of Landscape Gardening Program
BY DOLORES MULLER
Special to The Pilot
Another chapter in the development of the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens and Landscape Gardening program has been written with the dedication of the new Steed Hall on the campus of Sandhills Community College.
Located on the 32 acres of the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, the new instructional building houses three classrooms, a student lounge/study area, a learning resource center, student residences, faculty offices and a green roof. Also known as "living roofs," green roofs serve several purposes for a building, such as absorbing rainwater, providing insulation, creating a habitat for wildlife, and helping to lower urban air temperatures and combat the heat island effect.
Steed Hall replaced the old Huette Hall building built in 1969 (the first building on the college campus to be named a hall), which had seen better days. Fittingly the new building is named in honor of Warren and Marion Steed, who when the newly-created Landscape Gardening program began, immediately offered their support. In the years that followed, the Steeds provided scholarships for students and made Steed's Nursery, in Candor, available for learning opportunities and field trips. Additionally, much of the landscaping for the Sandhills campus, which opened in 1966, came from the Steed Nursery.
Warren H. Steed was born in 1917, in Raleigh, and shortly thereafter moved to Candor with his family. He grew up there, attended N.C. State University for a year, then came back to Candor and bought a tract of land and started growing peaches with his father. With the start of World War II, the peach orchard was sold but the nursery portion of the land was retained. Steed joined the Army and was stationed in England. In 1945 he returned home and started working again at his nursery business.
He continued to operate a very successful wholesale and retail nursery business. During that time he collected magnolia seeds near Hoffman. He and his father propagated the seeds and observed over several years that one seed produced a plant that appeared significantly different from the others. This little seedling had developed into a small tree, and they named it Magnolia "Little Gem." Many gardeners now enjoy this truly distinctive magnolia growing in their gardens.
Among other discoveries, Steed developed a holly, which he designated "Steed Upright." However, the "Little Gem" was the plant that brought him and his nursery more attention then he had ever dreamed. The plant was never patented as Steed was the kind of a person who would rather share his discovery with friends.
"It could have garnered him a lot of money as it has become a very sought after landscape tree by nursery operators and landscape professionals throughout the United States and in other countries," says professor Fred Garrett. "The Steeds both considered the students and faculty of the landscape gardening program to be an extension of their own family and it is because of their generosity that the new facility was built."
Throughout the years the gardens and program have continued to grow because of generous people like the Steeds. Originally, the gardens began with two acres of land to plant the significant collection of hollies donated by local resident Dr. Fred Ebersole. The Ebersole Holly Garden is now the largest holly collection east of the Mississippi.
Fifteen additional acres were dedicated to the Landscape Gardening program in 1978 for future garden expansion. Between 1980 and 1984 a master plan was developed for the outdoor "living, green, laboratory" which would serve as a guide for potential, additional garden expansion in future years. Landscape design students developed a master plan as their semester design project with guidance from the staff.
In 1984, the formal Sir Walter Raleigh garden was designed by second-year student Sue Frett. It was developed to commemorate a statewide celebration of America's 400th anniversary and the attempted colonization of Roanoke Island in 1584.
In 1987, Jane McPhaul, who was instrumental in raising funds for the development of the Sir Walter Raleigh garden, suggested a Sandhills Horticultural Society be founded, which along with the general membership has been responsible for the continued organized maintenance and growth of the garden.
The supportive membership has generated and continues to generate funds necessary for the present and future "good of the garden." The society, through acceptance of donations has enabled the Sandhills Horticultural Gardens to develop a consortium of diverse plant material arranged primarily in student designed, constructed and maintained gardens, that provides excellent hands-on field laboratories to complement the classroom work.
In the late 1980s, a perennial border was added. The Hillside Garden funded by Mrs. Warner Atkins came along in 1991, in 1993 the Desmond Native Wetland Garden was initiated, and in 1995, as a result of a generous donation by the Hackley family, the Hackley Woodlands Garden was started. The Sandhills Horticultural Society funded the Succulent Garden in 1998.
Jack Ambrose, in memory of his wife, funded the Japanese Garden, which was dedicated in the fall of 2005. In 1997 another significant building, the Ball Visitors Center, which is the gateway to the gardens, was constructed with funding from the family of G. Victor and Margaret Ball, who owned the Ball Seed Company in the Chicago area.
Ball had often spoken to the students about the possibilities for a career in the green industry.
"Neither the faculty nor students realized that one day the Balls would gift the garden and make the visitor's center possible," says Garrett.
Ball passed away in 1997 and never had the opportunity to see the center, but his wife, Margaret Ball, and their three daughters were present for the dedication.
In 2001, Garrett, known as the "father of the gardens," retired after three decades working with dedicated faculty, students and alumni. He was there when the gardens began and was largely responsible for the success of the program and the reputation the program holds today.
Garrett formulated the curriculum and initiated the first class of enrolled landscape gardening students. Former students include White House gardeners Dale Haney and Tom Geer, director of the gardens at Monticello; Peter Hatch; Preston Stockton, head of the Reynolda Gardens in Winston-Salem; and Hoffman Nursery owner John Hoffman.
Demaris Johnson succeeded Fred Garrett as coordinator of the program in 2001. The story of the garden's evolution has come full circle as Johnson, once a student in the Landscape Gardening program, served her internship at the Steed Nursery in Candor.
The beautiful gardens, created and maintained by dedicated students and faculty and the generosity of many individuals, are open 365 days a year for all to enjoy.
"Everyone can participate and be a supporter of the gardens and the Landscape Gardening program," says a spokesman. "If you are interested, call (910) 695-3882 to join the Horticultural Society."
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