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Full of weeping dogwoods, rambunctious rhododendrons and uncommon conifers, the Greensboro Arboretum has taken root as a showcase for Mother Nature's various objets d'art where eye-catching plants mingle with rolling grass, conversation benches, a garden full of butterflies, a gazebo and an overlook.

On 17 acres between Walker Avenue and West Market Street, the arboretum will have something for everyone during every season when it is completed sometime next year. The actual completion date will depend on the weather. Greensboro Beautiful and the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department are developing the project.Plans for the arboretum began four years ago when city crews began preparing the soil and installing an irrigation system and sub-surface drainage grids. While workers dug, drained and irrigated, landscape architect Robert McDuffie decided which plants should be used in the arboretum and where they should be situated.

McDuffie studied the lay of the land and soil composition, along with the amount of sun and shade the area receives. Using this information, he mapped out where each of the nine permanent collections would be planted.

He turned this information over to Irene McIver, coordinator of development for the Arboretum, who has spent countless hours poring over catalogs searching for the necessary plants.

The former educator and nursery owner's quest has reached across the continental United States.

``If you persist, you can get all of them,' McIver said. ``The conifers are hard to find on the East Coast. I had them shipped in from Oregon and California. All of the nurseries in North Carolina I have contacted have donated plants.'

``Irene is one of Greensboro Beautiful's most dedicated volunteers. She has worked for a number of years to see this dream come true and has worked unselfishly to make the Greensboro Arboretum become a reality,' said Kathryn Gabel, City Beautiful director for the city's parks and recreation department.

When the plants arrive in Greensboro, they are taken to the city nursery until planting time. McIver, working with city horticulturist Mark Bush, puts a number on each plant to correspond with a number she has marked on the ground at the arboretum. City crew members match the plants with the spots on the ground and, voila, the arboretum is one plant closer to its goal of 17,000. So far, 2,000 plants, trees and shrubs have been planted.

Pam Allen, chairman of Greensboro Beautiful, said about 75 percent of the plants will be in place by the time of the official opening. Although the opening is at least one year away, the arboretum is open now for individuals who want to walk or sit and enjoy nature at her finest. When complete, the area will have two miles of paths, accessible to senior citizens and the handicapped, that will allow easy access to the collection areas.

The city's parks and recreation department is responsible for maintaining the arboretum.

Thousands of plants will adorn the area, but it will take at least 10 years for them to mature, Allen said.

``When people see something new, they think there is nothing to it, but give it 10 years and it will be lovely,' McIver said. In front of each group of plants, there will be a sign listing their botanical and common names. ``We would like to have more information on the sign, but each line costs money,' she added.

An arboretum differs from a botanical garden in that an arboretum is used for scientific and education purposes. McIver is working with local educators to set the parameters for educational programs that will be housed in an educational facility that arboretum officials hope will be built on the property.

``We are just real excited about the possibilities for the Greensboro Arboretum and its educational impact on the community,' Gabel said. ``We are hoping to be able to provide not only the citizens of Greensboro with a valuable educational resource, but also provide the same thing to visitors from all over the region and the state.'

Not only will the programs educate the public, so will the permanent collections. For example, by looking at the shade shrub section, homeowners with shady yards will learn what will grow best in their yard.

The nine permanent collections are:

Winter Garden - emphasizes plants of interest in the winter months. It will also provide a space for outdoor meetings, weddings and other occasions.

Vine Collection - vines will be trained to grow on the landmark arbor, enhanced with perennials surrounding the collection. The arbor contains benches and an elaborate stone floor laid by Paul Scott Voigt Summerfield.

Sun Shrub Collection - highlights plants that grow well in the full sun.

Shade Shrub Collection - features shrubs that grow in varying degrees of shade. It will include rhododendrons, hostas and a wildflower trail.

Small Tree Collection - contains a complete group of small trees, may of which have been donated as memorials or honorariums.

Groundcover Collection - highlights this little-used group of plants.

Hydrophytic Collection - features plants that thrive in wet conditions.

Sequence of Bloom Collection - contains plants that blossom at progressive seasons for year-round beauty.

Conifer Collection - highlights evergreen plants with cones.

Also, the arboretum will feature a butterfly garden in a bricked-in area shaped like a butterfly. The garden will contain sweet-smelling flowers that attract butterflies.


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