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Jul. 22, 2019
5:55 am


Director expects full bloom for Gainesville’s botanical garden

By Jane Harrison
Blooms opening up this spring at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Gainesville Garden signal the start of a colorful, event-filled season at the woodland oasis. From plant sales to concerts, propagation lessons to bourbon sampling, the off shoot of Atlanta’s Midtown garden brings it all to the peaceful respite just north of downtown Gainesville.
Long before early spring’s tulip blossoms faded, Garden Director Mildred Fockele was plotting activities to fill the garden’s April-October calendar. Fockele, who lives in Gainesville, recently became full-time Gainesville Garden director after previously splitting her time between her hometown garden and Midtown. In her new assignment, Fockele can “focus her undivided attention to the Gainesville Garden,” said Atlanta Botanical Garden President Mary Pat Matheson.
“It’s a lot of fun and a big change,” Fockele said. Not having to drive to Atlanta every week frees up more time for Gainesville, she said. She’s investing her energy planting thoughtful programs and growing events at the amphitheatre. One of her main goals this year, the opening of a new Children’s Garden, has been delayed until fall due to an extremely wet winter. But, she’s excited about what’s sprouting up in the meantime.
Woodland Ramble/Spring Plant Sale, April 20 – This annual rite of spring has grown from its origin three years ago to a full fledged garden festival. Thirty- eight north Georgia craftspeople will show off and sell original nature themed, recycled or upcycled art. “We’re excited about the high number of vendors. We’re hitting our stride,” Fockele said. Expect to find jewelry, pottery, candles, and soaps, among other items. Along with handmade wares, the ramble includes sales of rare plants not usually found in local garden centers. Visitors can shop, stroll through the garden and pick up a bite to eat or a popsicle from food trucks on the garden grounds.
Wine in the Woodlands, last Thursday May-Oct. – Enjoy an evening sipping wine, craft beer or soft drinks in the garden during this spring, summer and fall.  Fockele said the outdoor after-work relaxer  has doubled in attendance since its premiere. The garden pours the beverages and a caterer serves light fare such as small sandwiches, fruit cups and chips with salsa. Corn hole boards and other fun games add some action to happy hour. 
Brunch with Mom – Mothers get treated to a brunch, cash bar, and woodland garden stroll in the May 11 fete, just before Mother’s Day.
Flamingos, family events, concerts, June (dates TBA) - Flamingos flying near Lake Lanier? Not quite, but Fockele is toying with a flamingo themed garden party in June. She plans the after-hours soiree and new family activities to liven up long summer evenings amongst the blooms.
Concerts - The garden’s popular concert series continues this summer with two shows coming to the 2,000-person capacity Ivester Amphitheatre. Check the garden website,, this month for details. Fockele said in March that concert organizers were still negotiating with performers and expected to present the line-up in early April. The Four Tops, Indigo Girls, Loretta Lynn, The Temptations, Emmylou Harris and Boz Skaggs are among artists previously performing under the stars. Attendees bring their own low-rise chairs or blankets and find a place to listen in the grass.
BBQ, blues & bourbon and more in October – Fockele has packed October with fall favorites, plus a new event featuring Southern barbecue, blues tunes, and bourbon tasting. She plans a drop-in sort of afternoon-to-evening party for folks to sample and mingle in the autumn garden. Whimsical straw guests come back to the garden in another fun October Scarecrows in the Garden. Community groups are invited to assemble their own creations for the annual display. Garden guests can prepare their fall and winter outdoor displays with art and plants from another Woodland Ramble/Artist Market Oct. 5. Little goblins and ghosts can frolic in the garden in a family friendly Halloween celebration. Oct. 27.
Children's Garden - Also, look for the Children’s Garden to open in fall. The 2.5 acre play land on a knoll overlooking the forest will unleash childish imaginations and pent up energies with a fairy village, labyrinth, water play fountains, rock and boulder climbing area, chase maze and programs to bring families together in the garden.
Insights, garden lessons, members-only events – All season long the garden presents opportunities for visitors to learn what to plant in a whiskey half-barrel or clay pot, discover brush strokes to recreate bird nests on canvas, or purchase rare plants before the general public has a chance to shop. Courses in container gardening and acrylic painting, plus members-only plant sales and how-to seminars with Fockele enlighten those who seek something extra. See the monthly Lakeside Outdoor Calendar and garden website for details.
Behind the scenes
While activities burst forth along the garden paths and in the amphitheatre, something else is happening underground, sort of. Visitors to both the Gainesville and Atlanta gardens may notice new exotic plants leafing out here and there. Through a collaborative program with Asian countries, the Gainesville garden will be proving ground for seeds and cuttings imported from China and Vietnam in the International Plant Expedition Program, which Fockele directs.
Fockele said a rare shrubby magnolia and lady slipper orchid are among the unusual plants she expects may be displayed and available for purchase. Many visitors are not aware of the Gainesville Garden’s four acre nursery and 5,000 square foot greenhouse where plants are grown and evaluated before settling into the main gardens.
Unlike the landlocked Midtown garden, the Gainesville location offers ample room for “one of the world’s most diverse and well documented plant collections,” according to Garden President Matheson. Fockele said the networking effort involves international plant experts, university botanists, and other public gardens in the U.S.
The exotic newcomers get a Southern welcome in Gainesville, where they are tested for heat tolerance, cold hardiness, and the potential for invasiveness, an unwanted trait. After a careful and thoughtful selection process, those passing the tests might pop up in international displays, collections and gardens. “It’s an exciting program,” Fockele said.
Info:, 404-888-4760.

Posted online 3.29.19
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