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Greener pastures for garden director

Dr. Wilf Nicholls

By Mandy Cook

Dr. Wilf Nicholls of Memorial University’s Botanical Garden is moving from his role as director and will be taking up a new post as director of the Botanical Garden of the University of Georgia in Athens.

A native of London, England, Dr. Nicholls came to Memorial via the botanical garden of the University of British Columbia 13 years ago. Today, he says the opportunity in the United States presented itself at a good time in his life and in the life of the garden.

“As director of a Botanical Garden, no doubt we always have headhunters sniffing around,” he laughs during an interview. “Usually I say ‘forget it, I’m delighted where I am,’ but I have four to five years left before I retire, I have a couple of good friends down there and I think it’s time for some new blood here.”

Noting that Memorial’s botanical garden will soon be unveiling a new strategic plan, Dr. Nicholls says whomever takes on the role come September will have new skills to maximize the goals of the plan. Continuing to make connections with the community is one of those goals.

Dr. Nicholls says linking the work at the garden with school children, seniors, undergraduate and graduate students will continue to be a priority at the garden. As well, working with local groups such as the Community Food Sharing Association and hosting the Ken Proudfoot Potato Festival will remain a vital part of the garden staff’s mandate.

Asked what he will remember as highlights of his career at Memorial, Dr. Nicholls says one of his favourite things was to hear a visitor say, ‘You know, I’ve never been here before,’ or to host residents from seniors’ homes in the garden’s tea room. He also said he is proud of the garden staff’s work towards building awareness around the intrinsic importance of maintaining a garden within the university.

“Before my time, there were questions surrounding this place whether Memorial really needed a garden or not,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to make the garden be more than just a pretty place. It’s where a graduate student researches their thesis, or where I teach students, despite there being no department of horticulture or agriculture.”

Singling out garden staff, the garden’s board of directors and particularly the many lifelong volunteers – the Friends of the Garden – Dr. Nicholls says there are many unsung heroes who have dedicated hours of assistance and advocacy to help the garden flourish. It is this combined passion for flora and fauna in its natural form that Dr. Nicholls says he will remember.

As well, the freedom to walk out of the office and head out on the trail to walk amongst the conifers is a special memory he will take with him to Georgia.
“This garden, the natural areas here, you really get a feeling of safety, you feel one with nature. And you don’t have to go far to get there. That’s an unusual feeling for a garden.”