Jackson recently made a bequest to UNC Charlotte's Botanical Gardens, which will provide significant funding to support maintenance, programs and outreach. He says, "I wanted to support UNC Charlotte beyond what my current giving would allow. By including the Gardens in my estate plan, I can help ensure the sustainability of the facility and its programs." Here, Jackson explains how he has enjoyed his time volunteering in the Gardens:
It started in 1990 as my plan for self-improvement – using the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens to hone my gardening skills and teach me about new plant varieties and cultural practices. Eighteen years later it has evolved into a route to healthy living and a love affair with the Gardens. Encouraged by my mentor Larry Mellichamp (the superb Gardens director), my experience as a volunteer gardener has been both intellectually and physically stimulating.
From the beginning, the need for volunteer help was clear. The gardens founder, Dr. Heckenbleikner, had just retired and the gardens had very limited resources to continue. A small endowment only supported a part-time salary for the Garden’s manager, and it was clear that the 10-acre garden could use any kind of help, even from a relatively inexperienced gardener like myself. My main qualification was a love of plants that I had acquired in New England, quite a few years of gardening around my home, and a desire to work outdoors after retiring from many years in an office job. Now I was handed an almost unlimited opportunity for learning and being challenged by garden problems. Working side by side with the Gardens manager, I soon found that my most satisfying jobs came from Garden restoration in the Glen – removing the vines and unwanted vegetation, and maintaining the appearance of the rhododendrons and native plants.
One of my early jobs was the development of a plants database. Both my wife and I had computer skills, and together we wrote the software the transformed the card-file documentation to computer files. This exercise forced me to learn botanical names for all the plants and learn the locations of several thousand rhododendrons and other plants. As I made progress, gaining from experience in every area of the gardens, a time came when I discovered another source of satisfaction – I had developed the skills to do this work without a whole lot of direction from the managers.
The volunteer investment on my part has been large, but the returns to me have been larger. Gardens visitors tell me that I work in the perfect environment, surrounded by nature’s beauty. It is true – it is hard to imagine a finer work environment and the opportunities it provides for satisfying work. When someone asks me what kind of work I do, I describe the “work” as mainly recreation. My philosophy is that of Confucius, who said, “Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”