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Strong College Gardens and Grounds, 1999–2000
He that delights to Plant and Set,
Makes After-Ages in his Debt.
From the founding of Strong College, plans were made to develop the College grounds in a manner that would be both attractive and educational. The first progress was made in August 1997 when a path was cleared in the west woods and a garden shed established by the student gardening group, the Garden Weasels. In the 1999–2000 academic year planting on the east lawn began in earnest, and the first specimens of the historic rose garden were put in place.
The sections below describe the principal features of the different parts of the Strong College grounds, including the east lawn (with its collection of historic roses), the south lawn, and the west woods which are a corner of the Peabody Park woods and abut the Park fields. The north side of the College is a maintenance area that has not been developed.
The East Lawn
Strong College’s east lawn is its front lawn and the most common avenue of approach to the building. Most landscaping efforts have been put into this area. The east lawn is also the site of the annual Croquet Tournament in the fall.
Southern Magnolias — Three large Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) anchor the southeast corner of the College grounds. They reach their peak of flowering in mid-May. Near them is a large unidentified oak that is one of the principal shade trees of the grounds.
Zelkovas — Several specimens of the Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) were planted around the borders of the east lawn by the University grounds department when Moore-Strong Hall was renovated (late summer 1994). Native to Japan, Zelkovas are members of the Elm family and are often used in commercial landscaping as a substitute for American Elm. American Elms were once a common shade tree throughout the eastern United States, but Dutch Elm disease killed nearly all the mature trees early in the twentieth century and the species has never recovered.
Azaleas — Rhododendrons and azaleas, all members of the genus Rhododendron, are among the most popular garden shrubs in the world. Native to much of the northern hemisphere, rhododendrons and azaleas are especially diverse in the Far East, with many species occurring in Tibet, Nepal, China, and Japan. North American species include the Pinxter-flower (Rhododendron nudiflorum) and the Rosebay (Rhododendron maximum), both of which can be found growing in the Peabody Park woods. The American Rhododendron Society is devoted to the study and cultivation of azaleas and rhododendrons.
Several varieties of azaleas are present around the east lawn. Along the Junior Common Room picture window is a mass planting of the cultivar ‘Delaware Valley White’ put in place by the University grounds department when Moore-Strong Hall was renovated (late summer 1994). These produce abundant white flowers peaking about 10 April. ‘Delaware Valley White’ is one of the Kurume hybrid azaleas which have been derived from crosses between Rhododendron obtusum and R. kiusianum, both native to Kyushu, Japan.
Small clusters of red-flowering azaleas (varieties unknown) are also found at either end of the front plaza. These shrubs were salvaged from a beautiful old site on Spring Garden Street that was destroyed by the University in 1999 for a parking lot, and they were transplanted to our grounds by Strong College members in October and November 1999. Their flowers peak in mid-May.
Hollies — At least two different cultivated hollies (Ilex sp.) were placed around the building by the University grounds department as foundation plantings in 1994. The cultivars are not known.
Daffodils — Native to the western mediterranean, daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus and allies) have become naturalized in many places around the world. The generic name Narcissus is said to refer either to the myth of the youth Narcissus who, obsessed with gazing at his own beautiful reflection in a pool, starved to death and became transformed into a flower on the shore, or to the narcotic properties of the mildly poisonous bulbs of some Narcissus species. The word “daffodil” is cognate with the Greek word “asphodel,” a flower associated with the dead. The first daffodils cultivated in America were in the garden of the famous naturalist John Bartram of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson lined the walks of Monticello with daffodils. For students of daffodils there is an American Daffodil Society. The daffodils on the Strong College grounds were transplanted from the Peabody Park woods, one group in summer 1999, others in spring and summer 2000. They may be the old cultivar ‘King Alfred.’
Star of Bethlehem — Planted in borders of some of the rose beds described below are specimens of the small perennial lily Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). Star of Bethlehem is widely naturalized in lawns and other disturbed areas in much of the United States. Its small white flowers provide a pleasing contrast to the surrounding roses.
Lawn Plants — Although the Platonic ideal of a lawn is a monoculture of some particular variety of grass, few lawns come close to that ideal. Most real lawns are complex communities made up of a variety of opportunistic herbs, the majority of them not native to North America. The Strong College east lawn includes many of the common ones such as White Clover (Trifolium repens), Hop Clover (Trifolium sp.), Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) and Mouse-eared Chickweed (Cerastium holosteoides), Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Bittercress (Cardamine sp.), Field Garlic (Allium vineale), and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), among others. The most common grass species present are Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon) and Dallis Grass (Paspalum dilatatum).
Historic Rose Collection
Strong College began its collection of historic roses in the spring of 2000. The aim was to build a garden containing early representatives of most of the major groups of cultivated roses, a garden that would not only be beautiful but also educational, and that would serve not only the members of Strong College but also our neighbors in the University and the local community. Listed below are the varieties that were planted that spring.
National and international organizations that are of interest to students of old roses include the American Rose Society, the Heritage Roses Group, and the Heritage Rose Foundation. Several sites also exist (such as FindMyRoses.com) to help gardeners locate suppliers of particular cultivars.
Portlands — Named for Margaret Cavendish Bentinck (1715–1785), the second Duchess of Portland, this group of cultivars derived from crosses between the Autumn Damask and the Apothecary’s Rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, made probably in England in the late 1700s. They are sometimes said to have been crosses with ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ also, but most authorities now regard this as incorrect. The Portlands were especially popular in the 1800s among French rose breeders, including Comte Lelieur, the royal gardener of Louis XVIII. Portlands are represented in the Strong College collection by the original cultivar:
- ‘Duchess of Portland’ (ca. 1782) — The original ‘Portland Rose’ (also known as Rosa portlandica), this cultivar first appears in English nursery catalogs in 1782. It has a compact form and bright red, double flowers. Six specimens of ‘Duchess of Portland’ were planted on either side of the front plaza 24–25 May 2000.
Chinas — The China roses are European cultivars of Rosa chinensis, first brought to the West in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Their Asian origins are obscure, and it is likely that “Rosa chinensis” is not so much a wild species as an assemblage of early Chinese cultivars with much hybrid ancestry. The importance of the China roses to the history of Western rose breeding is that they flower throughout the year, in contrast to most European roses which flower only during a single season. Through crossing with the early Chinas, this habit of remontancy was passed into European roses, and nearly every modern “perpetually flowering” rose has some China ancestry. The Chinas are represented in the collection by the cultivar:
- ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ (1792) — Also known as Rosa semperflorens, ‘Chinese Monthly,’ and the ‘Bengal Rose,’ ‘Slater’s Crimson’ was the second China cultivar brought to the West, arriving by way of Calcutta. Six specimens of ‘Slater’s Crimson’ were planted on the Strong College grounds on 9 April 2000. They have deep red, fully double flowers and dark green, somewhat upright foliage.
Bourbons — The Bourbon roses are named for Îsle de Bourbon, the Indian Ocean island known today as Réunion, where the first specimens were found about 1818. These first Bourbons were apparently accidental crosses between the early China rose ‘Old Blush’ and the European ‘Autumn Damask,’ both of which had been planted on the island as hedges. The first seeds and cuttings of this hybrid, known on the island as ‘Rose édouard,’ came to France about 1820, and soon new varieties were being developed and sold widely in Europe. Bourbon roses are represented in the College collection by the cultivar:
- ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ (1843) — This cultivar is named in honor of the palace of Malmaison in France, the residence of the Empress Josephine Bonaparte (d. 1814). It was developed by the French rose breeder Jean Béluze in 1843 from a cross between ‘Mme. Desprez’ and a Tea rose. In the early 1800s, the grounds of Malmaison contained one of the largest rose gardens in the world, and Josephine patronized a number of botanists and artists who maintained and documented the plants on the Malmaison grounds. Four specimens of ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ were planted in large pots on the front plaza on 9 May 2000.
Hybrid Musks — The Hybrid Musk roses were developed in Essex, England, by the Rev. Joseph Pemberton between 1913 and 1926. They have a complex ancestry involving Polyanthas, Noisettes, and Rosa moschata from which they have inherited their scent. Popular shrub roses from their first introduction, the Hybrid Musks are represented in the Strong College collection by the cultivar:
- ‘Cornelia’ (1925) — One bed of Pemberton’s ‘Cornelia’ was planted 18 March 2000 in honor of Cornelia Strong as the first planting in the historic rose garden. These eight shrubs were a gift from Prof. Denise Tucker. ‘Cornelia’ has fully double, pink flowers with a strong scent when fresh.
The South Lawn
The south lawn is the least distinguished section of the Strong College grounds. It is dominated by a very large thicket of the early-blooming shrub Forsythia (Forsythia sp.), named for William Forsyth (1737–1804), one-time royal gardener to King George III. These were probably planted when Moore-Strong Hall was built in 1960 and were never maintained. The plants of the lawn itself are the same as described above. At the southwest corner of the south lawn are two fine Virginia Pines (Pinus virginiana) which present an especially dramatic prospect when the sunset is viewed through them across the Peabody Park fields.
The first improvement made to the south lawn was the planting of a Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’) on 30 April 2000, a gift from Prof. Susan Buck in honor of her prize-winning dog Dax. This tree anchors one side of the south entrance walkway, and smaller shrubs (probably azaleas transplanted from the west woods) could be added on either side of that walkway to make it an attractive entrance to the College grounds. Additional work could include the removal of most of the Forsythia and the placement of fragrant roses and perhaps Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) or Bayberry (Myrica sp.) along the building as foundation plantings to be enjoyed by the people living in the rooms above. A vegetable and herb garden in this area could provide fresh delicacies for the members of the College.
The West Woods
The west woods behind Strong College are a fragment of the Peabody Park woods that was fortunately left intact when the land was cleared about 1960 for the construction of Moore-Strong Hall. These woods are continuous with the oak-hickory community that makes up the rest of the Peabody Park woods, and they include fine specimens of Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), White Oak (Quercus alba), Post Oak (Quercus stellata), Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Virginia and Shortleaf Pine (Pinus virginiana and P. echinata), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).
A number of azaleas and camellias (Camellia sp.) may also be found in the west woods, probably planted there when the building was first landscaped. These could be transplanted to the east and south lawn as garden shrubs, thereby contributing both to the beautification of the lawns and also to the restoration of the west woods as a small native woodland.
About 10:00 a.m. on 25 May 2000 a severe thunderstorm passed through Greensboro and threw down many trees on campus, especially in Peabody Park. Two mature Virginia Pines in our west woods came down at that time, each of them about 70 years old. Tom Dort, David Simon, and Bob O’Hara used the opportunity of the storm to salvage about a dozen Mayapples from the rootwads of fallen trees in Peabody Park. These were transplanted to the Strong College west woods, further contributing to the restoration of the west woods as a native Piedmont woodland.
© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2016