Macon branching out with native plants from State Botanical Garden at UGA

Clusters of native plants are putting down roots in Macon public gardens in a growing partnership with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

As the first Georgia community to coordinate with the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plants at the University of Georgia, Macon-Bibb County ordered perennials grown from native seeds for two different habitats.

Crews planted a pollinator garden Tuesday morning at the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery and installed native grasses at the Camellia Garden near the entrance to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

"The plants that are here are tried and true," said Heather Alley of the Mimsie Lanier Center. "(These are) things that I've been working with for five years and really had good faith that they would perform well, because we want this to be real a showcase."

Alley chose the familiar purple coneflower, bee balm, brown-eyed Susan and goldenrod. She also picked some lesser-known plants, such as sundrops and spiderwort, which grow on rock outcrops.

Five years ago, the center began harvesting seeds on public lands by permit, and it has cultivated and studied the plants ever since.

With proper maintenance, the gardens will self-perpetuate and spread.

"We chose plants that the primary goal is to have a constant source of nectar for pollinators, specifically bees which are struggling right now, as most people have heard," Alley said. "So we've got things blooming very early in the spring, say late March, and then all the way into Thanksgiving, like the Georgia Asters which are blooming here today."

Stephen Reichert, whose own roots are deeply entrenched in Macon, is the chairman of the state garden's board of advisors.

He was looking for a way to beautify his hometown.

"This is the kind of thing that makes people think, 'Well, maybe there's a little hope for the earth, after all,'" said Reichert, who moved back to Macon in recent years after spending 32 years living in New York.

He suggested the program to his brother, Mayor Robert Reichert, who watched as the new garden began to take shape Tuesday morning at the cemetery.

"We hope this is the beginning of a long partnership," the mayor said. "We can work with the office of service and outreach from the University of Georgia and specifically work with the State Botanical Garden as they cultivate native plants to Georgia. We can get those plants, and where appropriate, plant them in locations to beautify locations in the downtown area and along the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail."

County workers listened to Alley as she advised on how to care for the plants headed into the rich bed of soil.

Macon-Bibb County Parks and Beautification Director Stephen Lawson said his crews will be pulling weeds, watering and trimming dormant plants.

"The whole reason for doing a project like this is to get education on what native plants do as pollinators and how important it is to our society and to nature to show how God works when he started," Lawson said. "All these things are native, and they have the insects and the butterflies and everything as we go."

Although Macon is the first community to join forces with the Lanier Center, Lawson hopes the year-round blooms will encourage others to plant patches of native plants.

"When people come by here, they're going to see the sign and get out and stop and read it and see what kind of plants are out there and hopefully buy some for their own homes to help the insects," Lawson said. "Most people think of these plants as weeds, but if you put them in the ground at the right time of year and you make sure they're in the right soil, and you put the right plants with the other right plants, then they're beautiful."

Although the Rose Hill plants are for drier soil, grasses at the Camellia Garden are designed for a flood plain.

Lawson expects the patches to spread and become even more beautiful in the coming years, which is exactly what Stephen Reichert had in mind.

"I had a wonderful childhood growing up here, and I want to make sure that children living here now and children living here in the future will have as nice a time growing up in Macon as I had," Reichert said.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.