Botanic Gardens Conservation International defines a botanic garden as an “institution holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of display, education, conservation and scientific research.”
The History of McIntire Botanical Garden from 2008 to 2017
Charlottesville, Virginia, is one of the best college towns in America, is one of the best cities in which to live and is one of the top five places to visit in the United States1. It’s home of the top-ranked University of Virginia and iconic historic sites like Monticello and Highland, the homes of two past U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. The City features a growing economy, an important research park, beautiful mountains and countrysides, excellent healthcare facilities, and an active and engaged community, but it does not have a botanical garden
In April 1826, Thomas Jefferson became the first to put forward a plan for a botanical garden in Charlottesville. It was to be constructed on the grounds of his University of Virginia and serve students in the Botany Department, but his plan never came to fruition2. Now nearly two centuries later, Charlottesville City Council has allocated 8.5 acres in the City’s McIntire Park for a botanical garden to serve Central Virginia, and is partnering with McIntire Botanical Garden, Inc., to make the garden a reality for all to enjoy.
In 1927, Paul Goodloe McIntire, a Charlottesville philanthropist, donated McIntire Park, comprising over 150 acres, to the City. The Norfolk Southern Railroad separates the park into the East and West sectors. While McIntire Park West housed ball fields and picnic shelters, McIntire Park East enjoyed a wading pool and bath house built in 1930 and a nine-hole sand green golf course built in 1936. Although located in the City of Charlottesville, it was classified as a Regional Park according to the City Comprehensive Plan of 2007.
Since 1967, several master plans were developed for McIntire Park including the road project that would be known as the Meadowcreek Parkway (renamed in honor of Senator John W. Warner who earmarked the federal funds to build it). Although many ideas about uses for the park were brought forward over the ensuing years, they were never formally adopted, and construction of the Meadowcreek Parkway was delayed.
In 2008 plans began anew to construct a parkway through McIntire Park using about 25 acres of parkland for the new two-lane interchange project. A formal Park Master Planning Process adopted in 2009 by the City set the stage to determine the eventual plan for land use of the park after construction of the parkway was completed. Special interest groups in the golfing community were determined that the park should remain as a golf course. Other groups stepped forward during the planning process to request that soccer fields, ball fields, and a concrete bike track be considered. In fall 2011, the Public Master Planning meetings began that would determine the eventual outcome of land uses for McIntire Park East. Prior to this public process, a desire to have a botanical garden in Charlottesville was expressed by a few individuals.3
Creating the McIntire Botanical Garden Non-Profit Organization
Albemarle-County resident Helen Flamini was one of those early advocates for a botanical Garden in Charlottesville. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Albemarle County in 1976. Yearning for a botanical garden close by to provide the enjoyment and beauty of gardens that she knew in New York City, she began to explore the possibilities to create a botanical garden in the City of Charlottesville. Realizing the importance of preserving McIntire Park and knowing the public planning process would determine its future, it became her vision and inspiration to engage others to explore the possibilities. An early important step was creating an all-volunteer founding board and forming the McIntire Botanical Garden, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. This took nearly a year to accomplish.
As MBG’s Founder and first Board President, Helen Flamini and other Board members carried her vision and inspired others to begin the challenging project of promoting MBG as a regional botanical garden serving Charlottesville and the surrounding counties’ tourists, visitors, and residents.
The early mission of MBG was to create community awareness of the benefits that a public garden would offer. To this end, MBG sponsored Music in the Park, presented petitions to City Council (1,600 petition-signers in support of the garden), published a newsletter, issued press releases to local news outlets, engaged notable speakers, and in collaboration with UVA’s Landscape Architecture Department faculty and students, conducted studies of landscape design and site assessment of McIntire Park East as part of students’ semester coursework. Expenses over the first five years were covered by MBG Board members, colleagues, and friends of the garden.
Park Master Plan Includes Garden
After a year-long public process initiated by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, a final Master Plan was brought before City Council for review and on September 4, 2012 was adopted. This plan highlighted the changes that would occur at McIntire Park East to include a botanical garden on 8.5 acres, closing the golf course by 2016, and creating a passive-use park.
In September 2013, City Council designated MBG, Inc., as the City’s partner in a public-private collaboration to design, develop, and manage the botanical garden in McIntire Park. The City hired landscape architectural firm Mahan Rykiel to design a Schematic Park Plan for all of McIntire Park East, which included the botanical garden. City Council adopted this Plan on March 16, 2015.
MBG Board Issues RFP for Design
Over the years, the MBG Board expanded to include members from Charlottesville and Albemarle County representing a variety of fields: gardening, education, law, local politics, local nonprofits, finance, engineering, architecture, marketing and horticulture. The Board has also created and updated its strategic plan, developed governance infrastructure, and accelerated fundraising efforts.
In 2017, the MBG Board completed a Request for Proposals (RFP) to hire a landscape architecture firm to design the garden’s 8.5 acres. The first major capital campaign to fund the Garden is anticipated to begin sometime in 2019.
The MBG Board envisions the McIntire Botanical Garden as a vibrant and diverse green space that not only fosters environmental and botanical education but also will become a unique garden adding to and complementing other attractions within the City. Centrally located only one walking mile from downtown Charlottesville, the Garden will be easily accessible from trail, sidewalk, road, and parking connections. It will provide invaluable recreational spaces for all ages within an ecologically rich and beautiful setting. The Garden will serve as an integral venue of biodiversity within Charlottesville’s urban forest and will influence the overall landscape of Charlottesville by educating individuals about sustainable home garden and lawn-care practices. The Garden will add a comprehensive model of sustainable landscape practices to the City’s strong network of parks. It will emphasize plants native to the Piedmont region to help ensure the sustainability of the landscape and, incorporated with display gardens, will enhance the visual experience for visitors. Children and youth will find delight as they explore nature and experience educational opportunities coordinated with their classroom learning. In addition, the Garden will be a center for lifelong learning, realize the City’s vision of a green city, and create a connected community for people to enjoy.
Milestones of the Future Botanical Garden
- Identified a growing cohort of volunteers who are eager to participate in the Garden project.
- Increased awareness about the Garden through social media, presentations, and other communication strategies.
- Completed a benchmark BioBlitz in spring 2016 coordinated by Master Naturalists and other volunteers to identify the flora on acreage where the Garden will be constructed.
- Installed signage on the corner of Melbourne Road and John W. Warner Parkway indicating the future site for the Garden.
- Planted the first small flowerbed at the Garden property to highlight the site of the future Garden.
- Created a partnership between the MBG Board and the Friends of Ian Robertson to offer an annual botanical lectureship, which also will be a fundraiser for the Garden.
- Issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the design of the Garden’s 8.5 acres
MBG’s Founding Board of Directors – 2008
Left to right: Donna Arehart (Treasurer), Diane Weber (Secretary), Jim Malloy, Helen Flamini (President), Peter McIntosh (Vice President)
Previous MBG Board Members
Sallie Brown, Roxanne White, Michael Terry, John Matthews, Karen Lilleleht, Peggy Van Yahres, Miette Michie, Carol Innes, Janet Miller, Ruth Barnett, Mike Farruggio, Blake Caravati
- Top 100 Best Places to Live in the U.S. (Charlottesville #5 in 2017) – Livability.com
Five Great Places to Visit in 2016 – Off Metro
Best College Towns (Charlottesville #7) – Collegerank.net
- See the research paper “An Uncultivated Legacy: Jefferson’s Botanical Garden at the University of Virginia”, by Lily Fox-Bruguiere, 2009.
- “City Botanical Garden in the Works”, Cville Weekly, July 3, 2007
~ History Revised September 2017