MOUNT OLIVE — If you are looking for a peaceful place to relax and enjoy nature, then look no further than the University of Mount Olive (UMO) Arboretum. Started in 2013, the Arboretum is located on three acres of land on the southwest side of campus, behind the tennis courts.
The concept for the Arboretum came about as a learning tool for students preparing to be ag educators. It was designed to be a resource to teach students plant identification in preparation for the Certified Plant Professional (CPP) test and to prepare them for work related to the horticultural industry as a producer, extension agent, or agriculture teacher. However, the Arboretum at UMO has blossomed into so much more.
Dr. Sandy Maddox, Division Chair for the UMO Department of Agriculture and Director of the Lois G. Agribusiness Center, said, “The arboretum is available for any class to use, and I would encourage professors to use it to advance student knowledge of taxonomy of plants, insects, diseases (which I hope are few), etc., or as an outdoor classroom or inspiration for a photography class: the possibilities are endless. It is a space for industry professionals, community members, high school FFA students – all to better understand and engage with plant materials. It can be laboratory for learning, a haven from our fast-paced lives, a place to reflect, relax and enjoy nature’s beauty, or a perfect location to have a wedding. The Arboretum is an outreach to the community.”
Local landscape designer Edith Chestnutt drew up the initial rendering for the Arboretum and UMO Director of Agricultural Facilities Operations Tim Warren made a few tweaks to the final plan. Irrigation was installed in late 2013, and in the spring of 2015, the University began planting trees.
During the next two years, over 10,000 hours, mostly from students, was spent working on the Arboretum.
“Students have utilized their knowledge and skills in gardening, they have used carpentry skills for the benches and arbor, welding for parts of the arbor, and stone work and masonry for the walkway and patio area,” Warren said. “I know that the students that have helped with the Arboretum will always remember their part in its completion.”
Today there are more than 175 different species of plants with plans to add approximately 50 more.
“The rarest for this area are probably the Frazier firs that were grafted to Momi rootstock and were a part of a research project at the NCDA Clinton Research station,” Warren said.
According to Warren the plants have come from nurseries all across the state.
“Some of our plants came from as far away as the mountains of North Carolina and nurseries in Virginia, but most have come from within a hundred miles of Mount Olive,” Warren said. “Most are tied to common plants used in the horticulture industry and will allow visitors to see texture, growth habit, and sizes of plants. As plants gain or lose favor in the horticulture industry, we will add new ones and remove those that do not flourish.”
Most of the plants are identified by scientific and common names. There are maples, oaks, sycamore, pines, cherries, arborvitae, boxwoods, petunias, gingko, zelkova, smoketrees, cedars, hydrangea, crape myrtles, various grasses (turf and ornamental), rose, beautyberry, blueberries, witch hazel, tulips, and many more.
Currently in bloom are Rose of Sharon, hydrangea, petunias, weigela, vinca, and a variety of perennials. “Camellias will bloom this fall and a late winter early bloomer will be edgeworthia,” Warren said. “We will also replace geraniums and petunias with chrysanthemums and pansies.”
The Arboretum also features an arbor, various benches, accent boulders, and a bridge. “We have plans for a children’s garden, Japanese rock garden, a pergola over part of the rock patio, and a bamboo fence. There are also plans to place lighting as accent and to light the pathways to allow for use after dark,” Warren added.
To date about $20,000 has been spent on walkways, drainage, and hardscaping. “All of this has come as a result of grants and other non-university funds,” Maddox said. “We have been fortunate to have industry partners that have been very generous in allowing us to receive or purchase plant materials. All the turf grasses were donated by Tri- State Turf. Our students participate as volunteers at the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association’s Green and Growing show in January and we receive donations of plants from nurseries across the state. The Johnston County (JOCO) plant growers are also a major provider of plants for the Arboretum.”
Maddox indicated that there are opportunities for people to honor or memorialize loved ones with the purchase of plants and an accompanying plaque.
As for future plans, Warren noted that the Arboretum is not a static entity. Rather, as plants and features change and age, some will need to be added and removed. “However in the next year, I would like to complete it as close to our drawn plans as possible,” he said. “I have visited other arboretums to get a feel for the potential that lies ahead. It will be interesting to see what our Arboretum will look like in 20 years.”
The public is welcome and encouraged to visit the Arboretum. It is available from sunrise to sunset. For more information, contact Dr. Maddox at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tim Warren at email@example.com.