Florida Master Gardeners Restore Beauty to Wilmot Gardens
Wilmot Gardens was established in the 1940s and became a centerpiece of the University of Florida campus because it showcased the largest collection of publicly owned camellias and provided a wonderful spot for students and faculty from the nearby health science center to get away and relax. However, the gardens fell out of use in the 1970s. Thanks to a dedicated group of Master Gardener volunteers, the gardens are making a comeback.
"Wilmot Gardens is a great example of the history of horticulture on the University of Florida campus," said Wendy Wilber, Alachua County urban horticulture Extension agent. "Master Gardeners are helping to bring these gardens back."
The Beginning of the Gardens
Wilmot Gardens was established by two master plantsmen—H. Harold Hume, a professor with the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, and Royal James Wilmot, a renowned camellia expert. Hume was a world-famous horticulturist and also served as UF's interim president in 1947 to 1948. Wilmot served as the primary caretaker of the gardens and secretary of the American Camellia Society from 1945 to 1952. The gardens became the original site for the American Camellia Society meeting.
Over the years, the campus expanded around the gardens and they became all but forgotten. Exotic invasive plants like air potato choked the camellias and other ornamentals. The carefully planned beds slowly filled in with unwanted plants and before long, the entire area looked like an abandoned lot.
The Garden Today
Craig Tisher, former dean of the UF College of Medicine, recently took an interest in restoring the garden. He and Wilber had worked together on other projects, so Tisher knew that she could help him get Master Gardeners involved in the garden restoration. With Tisher's help, a full-time coordinator was hired. After many hours of weeding, pruning, and exotic species removal, the gardens are returning to their former beauty.
"The Master Gardeners have been involved since the beginning of the restoration," said Wilber. "They're pulling vines, removing invasives, and finding the paths that used to be."
The Gardens of the Future
The plan is to keep much of the gardens as they were when Hume and Wilmot first cultivated them, although several new features will be added. Brick pathways and boardwalks are being installed. The camellias are also receiving much-needed pampering.
The people are also returning. Since the garden is so close to Shands Hospital, it is quickly becoming a sanctuary and healing spot for patients, staff, and physicians.
To help raise money for the continued restoration, a brick program has been established for Wilmot Gardens. One brick has already been designated to recognize the volunteers from the Florida Master Gardener Program who have supported the renovation of Wilmot Gardens.
"I'm excited that Florida Master Gardeners from North Central Florida have had an active part in saving this beautiful garden," said Florida Master Gardener Coordinator Tom Wichman. "We hope they'll continue to be involved with Wilmot Gardens in the years to come."
For more information about Wilmot Gardens and the restoration effort, visit The Wilmot Gardens Restoration Project.
This article was featured in the January issue of "The Neighborhood Gardener," an e-newsletter from Florida Yards & Neighborhoods and the Florida Master Gardener programs.