Next time you are downtown and driving near Kennedy Street, take a look at the “old” Evans building. It has become a new jewel in the crown of development in Spartanburg. Spartanburg Community College has opened its Downtown Campus in the Evans Academic Center. This has been three years in the works and opened in mid-August.
Once again the horticultural trifecta, better known as Jason Bagwell, Kevin Parris and Jay Moore, has risen to the occasion and created an urban garden that hugs the beautiful Evans building and is also very urban-responsible with regard to the environment. It took a lot of work to make it all happen.
Spartanburg Community College had its eyes on the building for some time. It dates back to 1923, and it has a long history in the Spartanburg community.
From the landscaping perspective, the Evans Academic Center, or EAC, began as a classroom project for SCC horticulture students. Urban tree care, landscape construction, and landscape management and design classes were all involved in the evolution of the project. It is a classic example of how to restore an old building to life and make it current in today's world. The students did site analysis, design and implementation as part of their learning experience.
They were exposed to design in an urban setting with respect to landscape requirements set forth by city ordinances.
Looking at the building as it was, they had to make some tough decisions. For example, there were hazardous trees on the property that were old and had lived past their prime. They had to take them down. There were hollowed-out trees that had to come down. Usually when this happens the community wants to know why they are cutting all the trees down. The downed trees were not good urban selections. Originally there were four species of trees planted at the site. Now there are 20 species of trees planted that are good trees and are species specifically chosen for the site by Parris. A diversity of trees is favored over a single species.
“Each student had some hands-on experience with trees this time,” Moore said. “We planted the largest trees we could that were 20 feet tall with a 6-inch caliper. Some of them had 54-inch root balls. We had never planted trees that large, and they all got to do something they had never done before.”
Unique features of the doorways created the theme of the plantings that hug the building. Each doorway has dogwood blossoms embedded in its archways. Parris decided to use as many new dogwood tree introductions as he could. Some of the varieties he used are Cornus x Hyperion, which is a recent introduction by Edwin Orton and the Rutgers dogwood series. Hyperion grows to 20 feet at maturity, sports huge white flowers and also has fabulous red berries in late summer that are used to feed the birds. Also planted is Cornus x Venus, a white-flowering dogwood that has 6-inch flowers and also a strawberry-like red fruit in the fall. One of Parris' favorites is Cornus augustata “Elsbry” Empress of China. What makes this one so special is that it is evergreen and well-suited to our heat and humidity. While it prefers no afternoon sun, it is loaded with white flowers that bloom in June and also bears the strawberry-like fruit in the fall. Empress is a smaller tree and tops out at 15 feet.
The foundation plantings that the horticulture instructors and students selected are low-growing plum yews, dwarf hydrangeas and dwarf palms. The dwarf palmetto palm, or Sabal minor, is a shade-tolerant Southeastern native plant and grows to 3-4 feet in height. In the spring, it blooms long panicles of yellow flowers and produces black berries in the fall that are a diet staple of robins.
In addition, there are masses of Penny Mac hydrangeas planted. What makes this great is that the SCC horticulture students took 60 cuttings, grew them in the greenhouses at SCC and eventually hardened them off in the nursery. This took two years.
“The students spent their own free time making all this planting happen,” Bagwell said. “One student drove back from Clemson just to attend the opening of this incredible building because he helped make it happen. Our students are committed to their craft.”
One of the horticultural surprises in the building is the interior courtyard in the center of the building, which is surrounded by glass. It is a Japanese-themed garden featuring simplicity in planting. A highlight is a collection of five Japanese maple trees surrounded by dwarf mondo grass, purple heucheras, ferns, mahonia and rhodia. One of the horticulture department's favorite Japanese maples “Seriyu” is an upright green lace leaf and grows to 12 feet tall. At first glance, the garden looks as if it had always been there. But the instructors laugh as they recall dragging trees with huge root balls through the hallways inside the building to get them into the interior courtyard.
“This is (the) best example to teach what a microclimate is and how to plant it,” Bagwell said.
The main feature of the EAC outdoor landscaping is the Balmer Fountain that literally stops people in your tracks when they see it. The horticulture instructors wanted a fountain as the main feature of their garden. Parris designed it, presented the concept and The Zimmerli Foundation made it happen. Kurt Zimmerli wanted to name the fountain for his friend Hans Balmer, who passed away several years ago. Balmer was the creator of the Spot of Pride effort and was just a wonderfully dedicated community resident. Landscape architect Chris Thompson, from Nature Forms LLC, took Parris' concept, made drawings and conferred with state water specialists W.P. Law to be sure they had all their ducks in a row. Josh McMillian from Roebuck Wholesale Nursery, a 1994 graduate of the SCC Horticulture Program, did the installation.
“If you think about it, an adjunct instructor made the design, construction was done by a graduate and current students landscaped it,” Parris said. “We think that is pretty cool!”
After all the planting was complete, Newt Hardy from Trees Coalition supplied a lot of labor to get it all mulched. It has been a community effort all around. None of it could have been accomplished alone.
“We all enjoy the idea that we have created a sustainable landscape in the heart of downtown Spartanburg,” Parris said. In 2006, Parris walked through Converse Heights with Balmer as they planned the Trees Preservation and Plant Project. Parris has worked with the past 10 Spot of Pride locations. It means a lot to Parris personally for Zimmerli to help make this fountain happen and honor Balmer. He feels as if he will be connected to it forever.
Bagwell is proud of what they have delivered at the Evans Academic Center. They have done it right using all their educational tools, such as responsible stewardship, minimum turf requirements, drought-resistant plants and smart irrigation. The horticultural trifecta at SCC Horticulture Program says Roger Milliken influenced horticulture in Spartanburg, and Balmer was the visionary who got the job done.
They think they are now the people who are implementing and teaching it. They are doing a fine job at it, too. Take a second look at the Evans Academic Center downtown on Kennedy Street. It will amaze you.