A special resource for native plant lovers
Story by Cynthia Wood
Nestled into the rolling hills of Nelson County, not far from Charlottesville, is Virginia’s newest botanical garden, the Quarry Gardens at Schuyler. Founded by Armand and Bernice Thieblot, the garden is an important resource for people interested in learning about native plants. Visit in early spring and you might find skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) and Hepatica; visit in midsummer, and you’ll find quill fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) blooming together; fall brings even more treasures, especially cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and goldenrod (Solidago spp.). At any time of the year slowly wandering through the Quarry Gardens is sure to reveal new surprises.
The Quarry Gardens are the creation of the Thieblots, who originally bought property for a weekend retreat and then decided to set aside 40 acres for a new kind of botanical garden that would showcase the unique ecosystems and plants that have evolved around the old soapstone quarries on the property. The Thieblots also wanted to create a botanical garden that could serve as a resource for individuals interested in learning about native plants and how to use them in their home gardens.
To establish a baseline before work began, Charlottesville’s Center for Urban Habitats surveyed the area and identified approximately 600 existing plant and animal species, including 40 that had not been previously documented in Nelson County. Among the finds: several species of ladies’ tresses native orchids (Spiranthes spp.), arrowleaf violets (Viola sagittata), and morels. There are also smooth green snakes and petaltail dragonflies, one of the rarest species of dragonflies in Virginia. Areas or zones with unique growing conditions were also identified, and these ecozones became the organizing principle for the Quarry Gardens. One of the zones, where umbrella magnolias (M. tripetala) and pawpaws (Asimina triloba) grow, is a hardpan forest wetland, which is rare and only has scattered occurrences in Virginia; another is a fern gully wetland with 16 species of native ferns. Much of the property is highly alkaline because of the underlying soapstone.
By the time the Quarry Gardens opened to the public last spring, roads and 2 miles of trails had been established; a viewing platform had been built overlooking the quarries; nearly 50,000 plants had been planted (all native to within 15 miles of Schuyler); and an existing structure had been repurposed as a visitor center. Work continued throughout the year on the demonstration gardens, which were designed to showcase seasonal native plants. In addition, the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen among others was engaged to grow plants from seeds collected at the Quarry Gardens. Eventually, the Thieblots hope to make Quarry Gardens plants available to gardeners.
During the first year of operation, there were approximately 1,200 visitors, including many master gardeners, master naturalists, and garden club members. Some returned to work as volunteers. Extra help is always needed to serve as tour guides and to assist in managing invasive species.
To plan a visit to the Quarry Gardens, make an appointment online by visiting QuarryGardensatSchuyler.org. Arrive comfortably dressed to walk over rough terrain and spend a few hours outdoors. Participate in an orientation session at the visitor center that describes the history of the Quarry Gardens, as well as the soapstone quarries, and shows some of the interesting species found there. Take a guided tour. Consider becoming a Friend of the Quarry Gardens, so that you may later visit independently, wander the trails alone, and discover new delights. Provisions can be made for individuals with limited mobility. The Quarry Gardens are open March through November.