Garden Development - In the Beginning
Juniper Level Botanic Garden, JLBG, was established in 1988 when Raleigh native Tony Avent and his wife purchased a 2.2 acre abandoned sandy loam tobacco field in Southern Wake County in central North Carolina. Approximately 20 minutes south of downtown Raleigh, NC, Juniper Level is located between the rural farming communities of Willow Spring and Panther Branch, and is, unfortunately, no longer included on county or state maps.
The garden name originated from "junipers" which used to grow along nearby Juniper Branch. These plants were likely either Chamaecyparis thyoides or Juniperus virginiana. Conifers are not new to the area, since more than a ton of 90 million year old (Cretaceous Period) petrified conifers and sabal palm trees have been excavated from the JLBG property. The southern term "Level" is used for the flat areas between creeks, hence the community name, Juniper Level.
Garden Development - Design Philosophy
The garden was designed using the philosophy of "drifts of one" to showcase a diverse collection of ornamental plants in an aesthetic and relaxed setting. There were no drawn plans for the garden as formal planting plans may limit creativity and often leave a garden without an essence or soul.
While the original site was fairly flat, berms and elevation changes were created by moving soil around on-site to increase planting area and add aesthetic relief changes to the garden. The garden is designed for year-round interest with peak season from late April through mid-October.
Garden Development - The Soil
The native soil pH at JLBG was an acidic 3.2 pH sandy loam, with virtually no Potassium, no Nitrogen, and little microbial activity due to its use as a tobacco farm. All planting areas have now been raised to a pH of 6.0-6.5 and have been amended with 50% compost, lime, and Greensand. No chemical fertilizers have been used in the garden since 1988.
Garden Development - Initial Garden Construction: 1988 - 1995
The initial construction project included an underground irrigation system, a second well, and a gazebo well-house. The construction of numerous raised beds and initial plantings occurred in 1989.
Excavation of the grotto garden also began in 1989 (all hand-dug by Avent) and grotto construction was completed in November 1994 under the direction of the former Gallucci-Halligan Sculpture Studio of Greensboro. The grotto walk and back patio areas were completed by the skilled staff at Envisions Pavers of Raleigh in 1995.
Plant Delights Nursery was also established in 1988 to provide a source of unique, unusual, and native perennial plants for passionate gardeners and to provide a funding source for JLBG for further plant research, plant exploration, plant breeding, and garden maintenance.
From 1988 through 1994, six greenhouses were built on the original property. In 1989, JLBG and Plant Delights Nursery held the first of the now-famous weekend open nursery and garden days, with all plants displayed for sale in the newly constructed garage.
In 1991, Plant Delights Nursery published its first mail-order catalog, offering a selection of JLBG's new, rare, native, and unusual perennials to plant enthusiasts nationwide. In subsequent years, many new features were added to the initial garden, including a woodland garden, a bog garden, several rock gardens, a southwest garden, a hardy tropical garden, a sunken garden, a garden waterfall, grotto garden, numerous creeks, along with several perennial and mixed borders.
The bog gardens serve as retention and purification areas for nursery and garden runoff but are also fed by natural springs, with flow regulated through a small pump. Bog and marginal plants serve as a natural filtration system allowing recycled water to be naturally purified.
Garden Development 1996 - 1999
In April 1996, the Avents purchased an additional 5.25 acres of adjoining property. The Avents moved into the home on this property. This new land allowed the expansion of the nursery production area, two additional wells and the construction of an expanded display garden as the collections continued to grow.
To level for greenhouses, 600 dump truck loads of soil were moved from the east end of the property. The soil was used to construct numerous raised beds including a miniature mountain. New garden features included a much-expanded 4-5' tall alpine scree bed, a larger southwestern landscape, a hardy tropical garden, and expanded shade gardens. Also constructed on the new property were expanded in-ground evaluation beds for both new shade and sun plants. A unique 200 foot driveway perennial border was installed along the garden exit drive in 1996 as well.
The original residence and garage on the first property were converted to nursery offices, shipping areas, and an Education Center in 1997. The function of the JLBG/Plant Delights Education Center is to offer outreach programs, educate gardeners—both locally and nationally—about all aspects of ornamental horticulture. A combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training in the garden provide an informative atmosphere for learning.
Garden Development 2000 - 2008
In 2001, the garden expanded once again, as the Avents were able to acquire an additional 11 acres of adjacent property. This new purchase allowed for expanded parking for Open Nursery and Garden Days as well as more production, research, plant trials and evaluations, and further expansion of the plant collections.
In 2004, 10,000 square feet of this new area was dedicated to trillium trials and production. In 2005, the research area was expanded by installing a Geophyte Test Bed on the south end of the property.
Also, in 2004, construction began on Mystic Falls, a new waterfall/bog garden bio-retention area, featuring an ornamental pond, paved patio, winding steps, a walled rock garden, and a 20' tall waterfall, constructed with the expertise of Asheboro's Two Oaks Studio. In 2006, Cattail Bridge over the recycling stream was installed by Gallucci Studios of Greensboro, NC.
Garden Development 2008 - 2012
In 2008, the Waterfall/Recycling Project was finally completed with the addition of a paver walk through the Sunken Garden, thanks to Envisions Paving of Raleigh.
2008 also saw the relocation of shade perennials trials to a new 5,000 square foot structure on the back side of the property.
In 2008, 3.6 additional adjoining acres were purchased for expansion of shade trials and future gardens named after former neighbor, the late Eddy Souto. 2010 saw the initial preparations for the Souto Garden beds and in 2011 JLBG expanded the on-site composting facility to allow for increased production.
In 2012 Plant Delights dramatically expanded field production capacity for rare perennials with longer production times. This space is shared with JLBG research, trials, and plant breeding evaluations.
Garden Development 2013 - Present
2013 was a pivotal year at JLBG. The garden's mission increased to include the study of perception, awareness, and consciousness. The Center for Mindfulness and Nonduality was established to offer guidance, a quiet refuge, and a sense of community for retreats, classes, and workshops for those exploring deeper philosophical questions.
In the botanic gardens, the installation of an irrigation system for the Souto Garden was initiated in 2013, and completed in 2014, and soon after, grass paths were added. Souto garden plantings also neared completion in 2014, with an anticipated 2015 opening.
A new Four Seasons Display Garden was added in 2014 at the Grape Trial Bed area to showcase the diversity and colors available in the garden year-round at JLBG.
Many of the driveway borders and hedges were also removed and replaced in 2014 to offer a more aesthetic display of perennials, rockery and light.
2014 also saw the purchase of the neighboring 6.12 acre horse farm, which allows future garden and research expansion as well as more parking.
2014 was a year of real estate and legal activities as the Avents spent many hours working with the attorneys at Narron, O'Hale and Whittington in Smithfield, NC, to incorporate JLBG as a non-profit entity with the State of NC and to create a long range plan to provide and protect the non-profit gardens in perpetuity.The 3.25 acre Souto Gardens formally opened to the public in the Spring of 2015 and several areas in the woodland gardens and gardens along the entry and exit driveways were renovated to increase light, add aesthetic appeal, and be more accessible to visitors.