DECATUR, Ga—Tucked away on four acres on the Georgia State Decatur Campus is the Georgia State Perimeter College Native Plant Botanical Garden. It’s a space known to gardening aficionados throughout the Southeast but remains unknown to many in the Georgia State university community.
New garden director Dr. Jewels Morgan is anxious to share the beauty of this “secret” garden to Georgia State students, faculty and staff. Beginning Friday, April 21 and every Friday and Saturday through May 13, the garden will host its spring plant sales. The sales are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and feature a variety of native trees, flowers and plants. “We have hundreds of plants for sale,” she said.
Plant sales and private donations are the lifeblood of the garden, said Morgan, a self-professed plant lover who left the classroom and now teaches Biology online at Perimeter. She is just the third garden director since its founding in 1990 by the late Dr. George Sanko, who died in 2018.
In 1990, Sanko, a retired Perimeter College botany instructor, created a garden oasis from an overgrown property in the back of the Decatur Campus. The property—two-thirds of which is in a flood plain—was a wasteland of overgrowth and trash. Sanko, aided by students and other volunteers, then began shaping that wasteland into his vision of a native plant garden.
The garden has become well-known nationally for its collection of North American native plants; in 2011 its fern garden also was recognized by the British Pteridological Society and its American counterpart, the Hardy Fern Foundation. That year, the garden also named was by the fern foundation as the best in the United States, and Sanko was recognized personally in 2011 with an “Award of Excellence” from the National Garden Clubs in Washington, D.C.
More recently, Morgan has begun working to declare the garden’s tree canopy an arboretum. “We have more than 20 different types of tree species on the property,” she said.
Volunteers are extremely important to the garden said Morgan. From tilling and clearing beds to participating in preparation for hosting for the first time, The Great Georgia Pollinator Count.
Over the past two years, with the pandemic, the carefully cultivated beds became overrun with weeds. That’s changing a bit thanks to an influx of volunteers from the community, Morgan said. During Georgia State’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, more than 40 volunteers from the university descended on the garden to help with clean up.
Morgan envisions a garden with a rolling year-round bloom—no season without some sort of flowering plants. She is working with volunteers to revamp the beds and plans an edible garden with native plants like Paw Paw trees and native blueberries. (Morgan learned the state’s iconic peach trees were brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers, so no peach trees.)
The garden also is a teaching site. Science faculty, like Christine Patrum, who was the former manager of the garden – and Dr. Samantha Andrews – bring their students to the garden as part of Biology and Environmental science courses. Georgia State computer science professor Dr. Ashwin Ashok also plans to place soil sample devices throughout the garden and near Dolittle Creek to monitor the soil quality of the wetlands. Morgan also is working on creating a virtual classroom experience and hopes to get more faculty engaged in using the garden in their curriculum.
“I want our faculty, staff and students to tour the gardens, and learn about native plants and visit the area in the garden which contains the largest collection of ferns in the Southeast. The garden also is a great place to take a breather from exams and the stresses of work and relax in nature,” she said.
Volunteers are always welcome, she said. Monday-Wednesday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Thursday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. To register for volunteering, visit the PAWS for a CAUSE page. The garden is open to the public for free every day from dawn to dusk.
For information, contact Morgan at [email protected].