Gardens serve many purposes at Reynolds Community College
Every Wednesday, Master Gardener volunteers from the Richmond (Virginia) area come to the Goochland Campus of Reynolds Community College.
They tend to an herb garden on campus that is a joint project between the Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardeners and the students enrolled in Reynolds’ horticulture program. It was installed in 2015, and serves as both a learning lab for students and a place where the Master Gardeners can hold classes for the general public.
This partnership between the Master Gardeners, the college and its students helps Reynolds maintain their teaching gardens for a horticulture and sustainable agriculture program that has only two full-time staff members.
“They are very dedicated to our garden areas,” Agriculture Specialist Karin Stretchko says of the volunteers.
The Master Gardeners have also been involved in installing and maintaining a native plant rain garden on another part of the campus. Plants such as ‘Little Joe,’ a smaller cultivar of Joe Pye weed, Hibiscus coccineus and Amsonia Blue Star add color and texture and attract pollinators, while filtering stormwater runoff from a large paved area near the gardens on campus.
A variety of gardens with purpose
In addition to the herb garden and rain garden, the Reynolds campus is also home to the Al Gardner Memorial Conifer Garden. This is a reference garden for the American Conifer Society, and also a memorial to Al Gardner (1956-2007), who co-owned Colesville Nursery in Ashland, Va., and co-founded Acer Acres, a Japanese maple specialty nursery nearby.
Reynolds horticulture program Director David Seward was a friend of Gardner, and worked with Virginia horticulturalist Scott Burrell to find grant money and donations to build the garden in 2011.
The garden reflects Gardner’s love of conifers, and his advocacy for more of them in home landscapes. Its design of semi-circular beds and pathways makes it one of the more striking areas of campus.
Reynolds’ Goochland campus is also home to an All-American Selections Display Garden, as well as an arboretum started in 2001 that Seward hopes to more fully develop in future years.
Other areas are devoted to edible plants, as part of the school’s sustainable agriculture program, which has been growing in popularity. Most of the harvest from the food production gardens goes back to the community through the Goochland Family Services Food Bank.
Display gardens recruit horticulture students
For Reynolds, as with many schools with horticulture programs, campus gardens serve many purposes. They are a learning lab for students, but they also create a reason for the general public to notice and visit the campus. That, in turn, can help recruit more students and strengthen the program.
“I have recruited students by people just driving by the campus and seeing it,” says Seward.
He and Stretchko both do their best to get the word out about the resources available at the school—holding an annual Gardenfest plant sale in April, producing “plant of the month” episodes for Virginia Public Television, sponsoring workshops and reaching out to local media.
“We’re not a hidden secret anymore, but there are still a lot of people who don’t know they can get horticulture training in the Richmond area,” Seward says. “The more interest we have in the program, the better. A nice display garden pulls in visitors but also pulls in students.”
Stretchko says many people don’t realize the gardens at Reynolds are open to the public, with visiting hours generally being dawn to dusk.
She and Seward learned about Plants Map when company co-founder Bill Blevins, a conifer collector, stopped by the school to visit the Gardner Memorial Garden one day. He showed them how to get started. Master Gardener volunteers maintain much of the profile, but Seward and Stretchko say they hope to get more plants uploaded as time allows, because both the labels and the online, mapped plant listings are valuable.
“We don’t have any software that we can enter our plant collection into,” Stretchko says. “If somebody’s looking for a particular plant, now they can go to Plants Map and find it.”
The resource is also helpful because with a full-time staff of two, Seward and Stretchko need a way for visitors to the campus to be able to take self-guided tours.
First impressions are important
Visitors, donors, volunteers and students are all crucial to maintaining the campus gardens at Reynolds, which Seward says have come a long way since 20 years ago, when there was little to no landscaping on campus.
He and Stretchko have no shortage of ideas for new ways to cultivate the grounds, but they are wary of adding too many more planted areas without a clear source of resources to maintain them.
They want to be careful that anything they plant can always look its best for visitors, from potential volunteers to the 30 or so landscape professionals who come to the college each year for a certification program.
Because, as Seward has found, you never know when a campus landscape might convert a visitor into a future student.
To learn more, follow Reynolds Community College and the Goochland-Powhatan Master Gardeners Educational Gardens on Plants Map. Also learn more about All-America Selections Display Gardens and how to connect with them on PlantsMap.