The Wilson Garden is a memorial to E.H. Wilson, the renowned plant collector. Located north of the greenhouses, all plants growing in this garden are species/varieties that were personally gathered by Wilson on his expeditions. Dr. E. H. Wilson was an English plant hunter who, at the turn of the century, undertook numerous expeditions into the Orient for the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University to gather a collection of over 1000 exotic plants. Exploring remote areas of the Far East, he faced adventures as varied and spine-tingling as any big game hunter’s, including a broken leg in a near-tragic landslide while climbing a mountain in search of the Regal Lily. He not only discovered and popularized many of the most useful garden plants we still grow today, but he was a pioneer in photography and documented his findings with scientific detail. Dr. Wilson’s career included writing several books on the plants of China, Japan, and Korea as well as becoming Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum.
Dr. E. H. “Chinese” Wilson is credited with introducing over 1200 species of plants, many of which are very important in today’s world of gardening. One of his most familiar introductions is the Regal Lily Lilium regale. Discovered in the mountains of China, Wilson’s large collecting crew would encase thousands of the baseball-sized bulbs in clay and pack them in crates of charcoal to make the long sea-voyage to America. The bulbs would bloom the following early summer and future offspring were propagated from seed. This garden classic grows easily in gardens all across America. Growing to six feet tall, this beauty blooms with trumpet-shaped, pale pink throated white blossoms. Insert: regal lily
The Memorial Rose Rosa Wichuraiana, covering the foreground of the garden, is a hardy groundcover reaching 18-24” in height. With proper support, it will even climb. It has semi-evergreen foliage that turns bronze in fall and winter. Its single white flowers have prominent yellow stamens and are followed by ornamental red hips in fall. Another treasure discovered by Wilson is the Paperbark Maple Acer griseum. It is a slow-growing specimen tree, prized for its winter interest and reaching 25’ in height. The bark on older branches and the trunk exhibits a striking exfoliating texture with rich, cinnamon brown colors. Located at eastern end of the garden, Purple Beautyberry Callicarpa dichotoma (photo left) is a small, rounded, deciduous shrub which typically grows 2-4' tall. Clusters of small, pink to lavender flowers bloom along the stems in summer. Beautyberry is especially noted for its showy fall display of lilac-violet fruit; they are clustered along the slender arching branches. Fruit persists just beyond the point of leaf drop and into the early days of winter. The fruit provides food for wildlife but tends to be bitter and unfit for culinary use.
The original Wilson Garden was dedicated June 28, 1934 in lower Glen Oak Park. It was sponsored by the E. H. Wilson Plant Study Club, an organization developed in October of 1931 to stimulate the study of plant life and promote efforts toward better gardening. Over the years this club was assisted by the Little Garden Club and the East Bluff Garden Club. This original garden, 200’ in length, contained more than 1000 plants, including a group of 300 Regal Lilies. It was comprised of six large beds, five planted with Wilson introductions and a sixth bed planted with bearded iris. The garden was relocated to its current location in 1953 and was maintained by the club till 1995 when the club disbanded from lack of membership. After Dr. Wilson’s untimely death in an auto accident, the Arnold Arboretum donated a Dove Tree Davidia involucrata for the garden in his memory. It is not known how long this tree survived the cold winters here. The highlight of the Dove Tree is the large, creamy white bracts of the late spring borne flowers. Another common name for this large pyramidal tree is Handkerchief Tree.