The Gardens are extremely thankful to Patrick McMillan and everyone who arranged and made his recent visit possible. We are also extremely grateful to all who came to hear him speak. Like us, I am sure you walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a renewed appreciation for our natural world, and places like Kalmia Gardens.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Patrick McMillan, he is a Hilliard Professor of Environmental Sustainability, director of the SC Botanical Garden, and host of Expeditions with Patrick McMillan on PBS (just to name a few of his many titles and responsibilities).
Friday evening, Patrick attended a gathering at the Hart House for the Coker Society. While he was there, Patrick spoke with the Society about his own personal and intimate connections to the natural world, and shared with the group how public gardens—many of which are free and open to the public, like Kalmia—helped foster his love and understanding of nature. He described how, growing up in rural Appalachia, his family were limited in their means, and if it weren’t for these free areas, he would have not developed into the naturalist and professor he is today. He shared with the group a heart-touching story of his son who, in dealing with the struggles that life presents, used the natural world as a place to find peace and resolve. This resolve led his son to follow the example of his father and work on his PhD in ecological science. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house during this story, but afterwards you could feel the glow of warmth and happiness.
The following morning, Patrick led the Gardens’ Board on an outstanding nature walk! He made connections that tied plants and insects to a seep coming from the bottom of the bluff, and showed us how we are all interconnected and require healthy ecosystems for our own well-being. After touring with the Board, Patrick gave an early afternoon tour to another group of participants. He started the tour at the historic Hart House (which will be 200 years old soon), and talked about the magnificent American Beech tree and the Sycamore tree’s exfoliating bark. He even discussed the reason that many species of trees have that adaptation.
Patrick was delighted to see our Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha), which can now only be found in botanical gardens. He toured the boardwalk and spoke about the ancient plants, such as the magnolia and lizard’s tail, touched on the Segars-McKinnon Heritage Preserve, and taught us about Black Creek and black water ecosystems of the Southeast.
He concluded the tour at the Gardens’ pond, where he reminded our guests of just how important a place Kalmia Gardens is. He stressed that it is our responsibility to protect and maintain natural spaces for future generations. Patrick and the guests then headed back to the Hart House, where Mary and volunteers had a beautiful array of “fixin’s” for a build-your-own-salad, a perfectly cool finish for an amazing day of discovery and wonder.