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Growth from the past: Watson Brown , Thomson Middle work together to preserve plants with Masters connection

Some of the beauty at Hickory Hill shares the same roots as the world's most famous golf course.


Dexter Rhodes, landscaping manager for the Watson-Brown Foundation and Hickory Hill, holds a copy of the original receipt from the P.J. Berckmans Co. The Augusta National Golf Club now stands on the nursery property.

Before the property at the Augusta National Golf Club was home to a golf course, it was the home of Fruitland Nurseries, owned by Belgian Baron Louis Mathieu Edouard Berckmans and his son, Prosper Julius Alphonse.

An invoice was found in Tom Watson's personal papers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that traces some of the flora around Hickory Hill to Berckmans' nursery.

The invoice, dated January 23, 1906, shows Mr. Watson purchased 100 magnolia trees, 18 banana shrubs, 12 tea olives, six white camellias, 12 mulberries, six purple cherry plums, 14 azaleas, six sugar maples, six barberries, 10 deodara cedars and six silver maples from Fruitland Nurseries. Mr. Watson paid $55.30 for the 196 trees and shrubs.

"There was a large quantity of stuff that he bought in 1906, and you know those were hard times. He was really trying to beautify the place. Everything is planned out, the house up on the hill with all the plants around it. Much to his credit, it's the way it is because it's the way he left it," said Dexter Rhodes, landscaping manager for the Watson-Brown Foundation and Hickory Hill.

In an effort to preserve those plants still growing on the grounds of Hickory Hill, the landscaping department has formed a partnership with the Future Farmers of America at Thomson Middle School. The students are propagating the plants in the greenhouse at the school. The students working the project are Chase Sims, John May, Joanna May, Jasmine Green, Donatavious Williams and Brandon Hand.


Thomson Middle School students work in the greenhouse.

"It's just a little partnership with the kids, because they already do a great job propagating their hanging baskets. Mr. Kay works with the children, and he does a great job with that," Mr. Rhodes said. "Also, it is teaching the kids about history and that the plants are historical in nature. All five of the plants came from different countries. They were brought here by Tom Watson, who bought them from the Berckmans' nursery."

The program is beneficial to both the Watson-Brown Foundation and the middle school, according to Steve Kay, the agriculture teacher. The foundation provides the soil, containers and cuttings; and the students provide the work, Mr. Kay said. The plants provided by the foundation - Banana Shrub, Magnolia, Deodar Cedar, Tea Olive and Azalea, are different than the ones the students usually work with.

"We haven't used them before. The experience is beneficial both to the foundation and to my students. It's a unique type of plants. My kids get to work with original plants to Hickory Hill," Mr. Kay said.

The plants are also still growing on the golf course at the Augusta National. Each hole at the course is named for its distinctive plant. The Tea Olive is the first hole, the Magnolia is the fifth hole and the Azalea is the 13th, the last in the famous "Amen Corner." According to the Masters website, there are 61 Magnolia trees lining the lane from the course to the clubhouse and more than 30 varieties of azaleas on the course. Berckmans' son, Prosper, was the one who popularized the azalea plant.

It seems Watson shared the Berckmans' love of exotic trees. Mr. Rhodes said he is sure there are more invoices of other trees purchased, and he hopes they are found soon.

"He had over 100 different species of trees on the property. And he had gathered those from around the United States. That is something very much widely known now, that he was not only a historian, orator, father, lawyer, and statesman. Also he was an avid naturalist. He loved nature, trees, and animals. He spoke about that in his writings," Mr. Rhodes said.

The students have worked hormones into a soil mixture and have planted the cuttings, Mr. Kay said. When they have rooted, probably at the end of May, Mr. Kay said they will be returned to Mr. Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes will continue to grow the plants, and will sell them along with Beech trees he is selling now from the Hickory Hill grounds. He also said he will use them to restock the property if needed.

Web posted on Wednesday, April 5, 2006

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