The Heritage Garden traces the development of Georgia agriculture from the frontier gardens of the colonial era to the expansive farmlands of the 20th century. Collections of heirloom flowers, antique roses and native species highlight plants that have held cultural significance along the way.
The beacon of the Heritage Garden is a fountain topped by a bittern sculpture (a member of the heron family). The surrounding plantings emulate formal gardens of the Italian Renaissance, the style of which was popular throughout Europe. Colonial settlers also favored this style, and they employed it throughout the Georgia colony. The Trustees’ Garden of Savannah, established by James Oglethorpe in 1733, is considered to be the first experiment station for agriculture in colonial America. In the Heritage Garden, the Trustees’ Terrace reflects the spirit of this enterprise with rows of seasonally changing crops arranged before a backdrop of native pecan trees. In past summers, these crops have included cotton, corn, peanuts and tobacco, and winters have featured local favorites such as collards and onions.
Here at the garden, the Trustees’ Terrace is a valuable hands-on resource for teaching agricultural history and gardening techniques to visitors of all ages. Two nearby sections of the Heritage Garden display plants listed in the 19th century mail order catalog Fruitland Nurseries, published by P.J. Berckmans Co. The first section—Fruitland Nursery—includes popular ornamental plants such as Cestrum parqui or “willowleaf jessamine.” The second, designated Berckmans Orchard, contains various types of fruit trees: apples, peaches, plums and pears. Featured apple varieties like the ‘Spitzenburg’ and ‘Roxbury Russet’ were favorites of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who were not only noted historical figures but also avid horticulturists. The catalog’s nursery was originally located at the present site of the Augusta National Golf Club, and today the Berckmans’ home functions as the club’s headquarters. Artisan brick masonry marks off the perimeter of the Heritage Garden. A native plant walk follows this wall, along which blueberries, muscadines, blackberries and figs are planted.
The leisurely tract of the orchard hillside is linked back to the Garden’s more formal areas through this circuit. Native species and heirloom plants (species cultivated in Georgia since 1900) prevail in the Heritage Garden. By encouraging the use of these species, and educating the public about Georgia’s agricultural history, the Heritage Garden supports the State Botanical Garden in its mission to promote conservation.