Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens and Environmental Education Center

By Cheryl Gosney Watts

The Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens and Environmental Education Center (SVBG) is peacefully nestled on 15 acres in South Boston / Halifax County, Va. The Southside Master Gardeners first met in February of 2010 for discussions and planning, which led to an agreement with the county (which owns the land known as Edmunds Park) for a long-term lease. The gardens are ever-evolving to introduce new areas of interest and enhance our citizens’ quality of life.

There are gardens for inspiration, education, and sustenance. There are trails for enjoying nature, native plants, and healthy exercise. There is relaxation for trading hectic day-to-day for introspection, peace and quiet, and just plain fun!

All of the facilities, gardens, and other projects on the SVBG grounds may have started with one individual’s idea or a collaboration, but each depends on community efforts and support. This “team” includes dues-paying SVBG members; area garden clubs; community volunteers; students in the supervised summer intern programs and Halifax County High School (HCHS) teachers and students in agriculture, horticulture, and building trades classes. And of course, generous donations of funds, supplies, and manpower from area businesses and organizations.

Many of the plantings and improvements that enhance the grounds are donated in honor or memory of someone. Our first garden structure on the lawn area was the Gregory Memorial Pergola. Beekeepers generously locate hives on the property to aid in pollination.

Agriculture classes from HCHS make good use of their Food For All (FFA) garden – it’s filled with plants from the HCHS greenhouse. They sell produce from the garden at the South Boston Farmers Market. The agriculture students give considerable help to the SVBG. They winterize the food garden; put compost on the FFA and Children’s Gardens; place gravel on the Nature Trail; move straw bales, plastic, and irrigation, and clean up the landscape around the Native American Garden.

The outdoor classroom took shape in 2015 when the Agriculture Department received a $500 grant from “Building Our American Communities.” With that and additional funding from SVBG, agriculture students partnered with the building trades students to start the construction. A “Local Heroes Program,” sponsored by Lowe’s Home Improvement, donated $1,000 and Lowe’s volunteers helped finish the space. Now, this is an anchor of the Botanical Gardens as it is used for meetings, classes, youth activities and more almost year-round.

2015 was also notable when the HCHS agriculture department won the only National FFA Grant in Virginia. The students used the funds to create a fenced vegetable garden at the SVBG. Over 400 pounds of produce has been donated to the Halifax County Soup Kitchen and local families. The students were able to experience the farm-to-table process and thus became forerunners for the Community Healthy Harvest Garden.

Halifax County is considered to be in a food desert. Sentara Hospital recognized the need for healthy food to prevent adverse medical conditions and was the driving force in developing and funding the garden. This was a partnership project with SVBG and Sentara Hospital that began in 2017. The fenced area was planted and worked by members, volunteers, and interns to provide nutritious food for local people. 2020 was the third year of the grant, and the Workforce Development Internships are based on a model created by now-retired agriculture teacher Jonathan Chandler. His early interns can be credited with many projects at SVBG, including the brick walkway from the parking lot area to the Outdoor Classroom. Some of the student interns have gotten jobs as a result of their real-life experience working at SVBG.

The Summer Intern Program started in 2015. Nine interns completed this past summer’s 2020 program, along with two other student volunteers. A Recognition and Awards Program was held in their honor at summer’s end, as they are a valuable asset for the gardens.

Perhaps the most unique offering at SVBG is the American Indian Culture Area, dedicated to agriculture in American Indian life. This was conceived and developed by garden member Dan Shaw.  It includes carvings illustrating the sacred beliefs and traditions in the native culture, and creates a sense of connectivity to the native peoples who used these lands long ago. To reach this area, visitors can take a short walk on the Woodland Trail, which also features several rest areas on Dan’s carved cedar mushrooms, benches, and artistic delights.

Medicine Wheel

The Medicine Wheel was created to display four of the sacred plants still used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes – sage, cedar, tobacco, and sweet grass. The colored quadrants represent the oneness of the world’s races with the center pole representing the Great Spirit in the sky. Four sculptured sacred animals circle the Medicine Wheel – the White Buffalo, Bear, Coyote, and Eagle.

The Three Sisters Garden shows how the American Indians utilized companion gardening growing corn, beans, and squash. There are six slate stepping stones leading up to the garden, each engraved with ancient Indian petroglyphs and figures, similar to those found in caves and beside cliffs in the U.S. Southwest.

Labyrinth design appears in many cultures around the world, including that of the American Indians. This 60-foot diameter grass Labyrinth celebrates this design as it’s shown in the Sweet Grass Woven Basket.

All of the ongoing projects and activities at the Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens and Environmental Education Center are designed to help teach our community about the art and science of horticulture and the importance of protecting our environment.

Our first 10 years have been quite an adventure! As we start on our next 10, we invite all to come for a visit – bring lunch and enjoy the picnic tables at the outdoor classroom. If visitors have great fun and enjoyment while here, we throw that in for free, too!

Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens is open daily to the public, free of charge, following the hours and rules that govern Edmunds Park. It is located at Edmunds Park Road, 3170 Dan River Church Road, South Boston, Va. 24592. Once in the park, take the first road to the right. The Gardens are at the end of the road. Search for “Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens” on Facebook.

Edmunds Park Road
3170 Dan River Church Road
South Boston, Va. 24592

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