Grass Roots Revival: JCRA Master Plan

Asian Valley

Asian Valley

A session at a recent American Public Garden Association conference titled “Innovations in Membership”, discussed the reasons members join institutions and stay engaged – mission vs. value.  While we at the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University (JCRA) believe our members get great value for their membership through fantastic education programs, special events and our famous free plant distribution (check out “JC Raulston plant distribution” on YouTube for the quickest 10 minutes in horticulture), our members respond passionately to our mission.  This passion can translate into extraordinary results as in the case of our Grass Roots master plan.

Master plans are invaluable tools for fostering a cohesive vision for botanic gardens and arboreta.  Too many institutions have a master plan on file which relates little to the day to day function of the organization and small institutions are often the worst about having a true master site plan to guide their development.  Many small gardens are haphazardly created on the whims of an interested volunteer, staff member, or donor.  While the enthusiasm of both paid and unpaid staff shouldn’t be checked, these gardens should fit harmoniously with the whole. The JCRA, using an early master plan, spent much of the first half of the 2000’s raising money for the construction of a visitor center and education building.  A 2005 American Association of Museums review highlighted the lack of a post-construction master site plan for the JCRA following the completion of the Ruby C. McSwain Education Center.  In response to this need, a volunteer committee comprised of landscape architects, landscape designers, an artist, and a nurseryman came forward from our own membership and offered to develop a physical and interpretive master plan for the JCRA. This “Grass Roots” master plan committee as it came to be known was a group of very talented individuals with a history of involvement with the JCRA.  They were intimately aware of who we are and passionate about our mission to “…promote responsible, inspirational design and management of cultivated landscapes through plant development and evaluation, as well as academic and public education.”  As proof of their understanding of our mission and outlook, the final report from the committee was titled “It’s All About the Plants”.  The late JC Raulston would have been proud. Through staff and public charrettes, the Grass Roots committee addressed these important issues:

  • creating a cohesive path system
  • improving universal accessibility
  • ensuring ongoing opportunities for student and professional development
  • improving educational interpretation of the collection
  • enabling equipment movement through the JCRA
  • developing areas that will facilitate major events
  • enhancing the presentation of our diverse plant collection
  • inspiring our visitors
  • integrating 2 acres of newly acquired land into the JCRA
Lath House

Lath House

The group met every Thursday morning for over a year to develop the final report and plan which were unanimously approved by the board in 2007 and warmly embraced by the staff and members of the JCRA. The master plan has since guided our development both in terms of fund-raising and garden installation/renovation.  After completion of the plan, several members rotated off the committee while other members joined providing both continuity and fresh vision, enthusiasm and ideas.  The committee continues to meet weekly guiding projects to completion, helping write Requests for Proposals, interacting with outside contractors, and soliciting in-kind donations.  Their enthusiasm and passion has helped inspire generous gifts allowing us to complete projects even during the economic downturn of the last few years. Execution of the entire plan is envisioned as a long-term project for the next decade and beyond.  The Master Plan committee is now a standing board committee and has recently revised the original 2007 plan to reflect the projects accomplished and to chart the next 5 years of growth and development.  Their work on the revised Master Plan has enabled the JCRA to develop a list of naming opportunities approved by the NCSU Board of Governors. The Grass Roots master plan committee is just one of many passionately engaged volunteer and member groups at the JCRA.  These volunteers help keep the staff energized and focused on our mission even when times are tough.  The give and take and respect on both sides challenges us to continually improve even during taxing times. A short list of Master Plan projects to date include:

  • 2007 Rooftop Garden renovated
  • 2007 Scree Garden installed
  • 2007 Pedestrian entrance improved
  • 2008 Southwestern Garden renovated and expanded into a Xeric Garden
  • 2008 an accessible central path along the main perennial border installed
  • 2009 Asian Valley was installed
  • 2009 first plantings in newly acquired land (Plantsmans Woods)
  • 2009 Annual Trials moved to newly acquired land
  • 2010 Japanese Garden renovated
  • 2010 Lath House constructed
  • 2011 Monocot Garden
  • 2012 Plantsman’s Wood accessible path
  • 2013 Dwarf Conifer beds
  • 2013 Paver path through Asian Valley

Click here to view the full pdf of the JCRA Master Plan. If you would like to learn how you can donate time or resources to the continuing development of the JC Raulston Arboretum, go to for more information.

Mark Weathington is assistant director and curator of collections at the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, contact Mark: