The Joann Cowan Brown Botanical Garden is unique among North Carolina's other public gardens because its plant collection is composed with plants native to our State. Nearly 90 North Carolina native plant species are represented by more than 300 individual plants in this accessible garden, which highlights native species adapted to coastal plain soils, climate, and topography.
Many of the trees and shrubs on display are species that have been used in American landscapes since 1850, around the time the Kelly-Farrior House (the Museum’s main building) was built. These include such plants as Clethra (Summersweet), Fothergilla (Witch Alder), Winterberry, Elderberry, Blueberry, Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Fringe Tree, Dogwood. American Beech, Witch Hazel, Itea (Virginia Sweetspire), Red Cedar, Swamp Bay, and Adam's Needle (Yucca).
Plants were also selected for this garden using the guiding principle, "right plant-right place"(Habitats Gardens, LLC), with attention to the site's water-holding sandy-clay soils and sunny exposure. In keeping with historic gardening, this garden thrives without modern irrigation. As a demonstration garden, plants were also selected based on their respective availability in the nursery trade. In fact, all the plants on display were obtained from NC nurseries.
The Joann Cowan Brown Botanical Garden was made possible with grant funding provided by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, through the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. Our idea for a native plant garden was inspired by this ecoregion's natural heritage, including the rivers, forests, and grassy meadows that first drew people to this area. With cultural heritage artifacts on display in and around the Museum, including historic gardening tools, it was a logical fit to install an accessible garden space where visitors may observe the living connection between our natural and cultural heritage.
Long before being transformed into a botanical garden, the property around the Museum was forest habitat, dominated by stately old live oak, tulip poplar, water oak, American holly, and other trees and large shrubs. As Kenansville grew into a community, the forest was replaced by open recreational fields and parks with a turf grass-dominated landscape.
The area where a botanical garden now grows was a patch of turf grass with little diversity and appeal. Today, that grass has been replaced by a collection of native plants adapted to the local environment and provides important ecosystem services to everyone's benefit, including wildlife, songbirds, and pollinating insects. The insects, attracted by flowering plants, are in turn supporting insect-eating toads, tree frogs, lizards, and birds.
As you explore the garden you may see leaves being chewed by caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other plant-eaters. This is a full-service garden that welcomes even plant-eaters including butterfly caterpillars. For this reason, no pesticides are used and yet the plants thrive because gardens composed with many different kinds of plants are attractive to many different kinds of wildlife, including insect-eaters. In addition to being a space that supports and nourishes local creatures, the Joann Cowan Brown Botanical Garden is a welcoming space where people can connect with their natural heritage, outdoors in nature.
Make sure to visit the Ila Cowan Kitchen Garden, too!