Surry courthouse gardens

Although none of the flowers in the memorial garden are blooming at the old Surry County Courthouse in Dobson, the beds are planted with trees and flowers that will bloom red, white and blue throughout the year. The beds are located directly behind the war memorials.

It’s essential that a gardener have a functional greenspace. These physical locations allow us to execute our craft, expand our vision and educate others. The Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (EMGV) of Surry County were lacking this greenspace, but found the perfect spot right under their noses.

The Surry Cooperative Extension center was relocated in 2018, moving to a vacant Save-A-Lot store off East Atkins Street in Dobson. The new location doesn’t allow for garden space, as a large asphalt parking lot surrounds the office. Most all county agriculture centers have greenspace or demonstration gardens, so gardener volunteers Terry Willis and Sharon Poindexter began to ask around.

“We were looking around for greenspace,” Willis said. “So Sharon Poindexter, our Master Gardener president, and myself were getting ready to talk to county commissioners and ask for greenspace. And Chris Knopf, the (county) manager, said, ‘I have greenspace for you.’ He talked to the county commissioners, the county commissioners were very supportive, and backed us 100 percent.”

The greenspace Knopf had suggested was the entire outdoor block surrounding the Historic Dobson Courthouse. The courthouse still houses government offices, and is a local landmark with its classical design. The historic courthouse is central to the small town of Dobson and is a mere one mile from the cooperative extension office. It was a perfect fit.

The Dobson courthouse is surrounded by an inviting lawn, and large, mature trees flank all corners. A sidewalk surrounds the building, providing an inviting walking path for visitors. Willis discussed with Knopf what he envisioned for the greenspace. Knopf saw families having picnics on the lawn, art fairs, and Halloween parades. The EMGV saw a wealth of potential in the space, and wanted it to be an area of community engagement and interaction.

“We started a greenspace committee,” Willis said. “The courthouse is kind of divided up into four quadrants. Instead of doing something the same in every quadrant, we decided to divide and conquer. So we have four different personalities going on here that we wanted to address within our community.”

These quadrants include a memorial garden, sensory garden, butterfly garden and edible landscape garden. Having just been installed in 2019, these gardens are all young and still a work in process. But the Master Gardener volunteers have put a lot of thought and heart into their design, making sure the community feels a personal connection to them.

The Memorial Garden is dedicated to the military community of Surry County, including Purple Heart recipients. Willis said that county residents take a great deal of pride in their veterans, so they wanted to recognize that.

“We have the main memorial garden, with a cutout for a Purple Heart memorial to thank all our Purple Heart recipients. We’ll put a sign in here to address and identify what the Purple Heart medal actually signifies. We’re trying to follow a purple theme,” Willis said.

This purple theme includes a swath of plant color in both bloom and foliage. A Merlot redbud harnesses the space, surrounded by little bluestem grass, purple cone flower, loropetulum, heuchera, and purple iris.

The sensory garden is designed to be easily accessible for all, including those with physical disabilities. It’s also stimulating in a number of ways, as all senses are engaged within the quadrant. There are musical instruments, aromatic and edible herbs, and soft, pliable plant choices.

“Two of our ladies decided that we wanted to address adults and children with disabilities, both physically and mentally,” Willis said. “Therapy gardens are becoming a big thing now, because they’ve found people with PTSD benefit from them, children with autism benefit from them.”

The volunteers received additional support on this garden from a local Lowe’s Home Improvement. One of the volunteers works at the Elkin Lowe’s and suggested the greenspace project for the Lowe’s Hero Project.

“They built the walkway, they cemented in the arch,” Willis said. “They donated tools, a wheel barrow, some plants and a bunch of really nice ceramic pots. We did this on Dec. 5, and now that the weather is changing, they’re going to finish up.”

The butterfly garden is a mixture of all native plants, which will create a haven for pollinators this summer and fall. A small, meandering path takes visitors through a pop of colorful perennials, including asters, black eyed Susan, coreopsis, grasses, and buddleia.

The fourth quadrant garden is the edible landscape garden. A lot of people have been asking about vegetable gardens for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are showing a greater interest in growing their own food.

This garden is a perfect example of how easy it is to mix in edibles into the landscaping surrounding your home. Blueberry bushes, garlic, onions and a Japanese persimmon have already been planted. The Master Gardener volunteers eventually hope to build a shade structure or pergola in this garden, so they can give classes.

Willis and all the Surry County Extension Master Gardener volunteers hope that the newly-planted greenspace touches visitors on some level. Whether it’s learning about the service of local veterans or observing insect activity on flowers, there’s a great deal of knowledge up for grabs in this new greenspace.

“Gardeners, we can save the world,” Willis said. “If you change one person’s perspective about how important pollinators are, how we need to keep them, and how much food they are actually responsible for — if you teach clean, healthy gardening to one person, we can change the world.”

Amy Dixon is an assistant horticulturist at Reynolda Gardens of Wake Forest University. Gardening questions or story ideas can be sent to her at or, with “gardening” in the subject line. Or write to Amy Dixon in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101

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