There’s a not-so-hidden gem nestled alongside Wake Forest University where visitors can stroll in the shade of the miles of woodland trails, spot wildlife in the nature preserve, and admire blooms in the formal gardens and greenhouses that constitute Reynolda Gardens.
Over the decades, the gardens have been well-loved by the Reynolds and Babcock families, Wake Forest students, Winston-Salem locals, and visitors alike. One might wonder: who shapes these beautiful lands today? Who crafts the strategic vision for the gardens, wetlands, and woods? Enter Director Jon Roethling, former curator of grounds for the Mariana H. Qubein Arboretum & Botanical Gardens at High Point University. His passion for garden cultivation and management began at North Carolina State University while working for Tony Avent in the Juniper Level Botanic Garden in Raleigh.
Roethling joined the Reynolda Gardens team in December 2018, and immediately got to work planning a rich future for the gardens. He took the time to answer a few questions and offer a glimpse into some upcoming projects.
1. For those who may not know, what land and buildings are part of Reynolda Gardens?
“I think many people are familiar with the greenhouse and the formal gardens, but that represents just four acres of the roughly 130 acres we maintain. If you have walked the trails, enjoyed the wildflower garden, the outdoor pool area, the meadow, or Lake Katharine, then you have been in the gardens as well.”
2. Is there anything particular about Katharine Reynolds and her legacy that stood out to you when learning about the gardens?
“In reading her biography, it just amazed me how she was at the forefront of so many things. Katharine promoted the idea of healthy lunches in the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco factory and prioritized education. She embraced new technology for the bungalow, as well as scientific advances for the farm. She cared deeply for the community and its well-being, and that is something that struck a chord with me.”
3. What are the must-see spots?
“I have to say I have been impressed with the wildflower garden along the trails. The diversity in that area really amazes me. It’s hard to narrow down just a few must-see spots because there are so many of them. I think that really is part of the romance and allure of the gardens. With so much to choose from, everyone gets to indulge their own curiosity and seek out their own special spots that speak to them.”
4. What upcoming projects and collaborations do you have in mind for the gardens?
“Our first big project really is addressing some pressing infrastructure needs such as drainage, irrigation, and pathways. Going beyond that, I see us working to breathe new life into the formal gardens, whether that be through new additions or enhancing what we already have. Another priority is to embrace the diversity of our community and reflect that diversity in the planting of the vegetable and herb gardens, even possibly working with the restaurants in the village to reflect those flavors. Also, there’s a strong need for a multi-use space for education, offices, and support. All of that requires resources, and fundraising will be another big focus of mine in the coming months.”
5. If a guest loved Reynolda Gardens, what public garden would you send them to next?
“I would definitely say go visit the Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden in Kernersville, where my wife is curator. Easily, one of my favorite gardens in the U.S. is Chanticleer in Wayne, Pennsylvania. It has some of the most talented gardeners and artists — and they have the freedom to try new things without fear. It’s just an amazing garden.”