A young horticulture professor was hired by North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1975 to convert eight acres of farmland near the state fairgrounds into an arboretum that would expand the university’s horticulture program.
The professor chosen, Dr. James Chester Raulston, was a product of the Oklahoma wheat plains. As the first director of the NCSU Arboretum, he became known to everyone as J.C.
Today, the JC Raulston Arboretum, named after this legendary director, is recognized as one of the premier arboretums in the country with a plant collection unequaled in the southeast.
The generosity of the man who guided and directed university students, faculty and volunteers for twenty years is revealed in a much-expanded woody plant palette that extends the enjoyment of the gardens to all four seasons.
His peers described J.C. as “a generous spirited giant among horticulturists” and “a selfless advocate for broadening and improving plant selection.”
“Plan and plant for a better world” was J.C.’s mantra as he collected, propagated, freely distributed, and promoted every single woody plant he could find, cajole, or borrow to create an abundance of new and diverse plants for the nursery industry.
The arboretum is filled with plants from over fifty countries. An equal number of arboretums throughout the world enjoy many of the plants sent to them by J.C., including Raulston’s signature selections and his well-known and much touted favorites.
J.C.’s influence and his garden oasis, though having received acclaim from across the globe, went largely unnoticed in the Triangle for many years. The arboretum was considered Raleigh’s best kept secret long before it became one of the top attractions in the Triangle.
The man referred to as the “plant evangelist” in a magazine article died in 1996 at age 56; having lost his life in a car wreck. His life impacted many devotees, including former students, faculty and volunteers whom he had guided and loved for so many years.
Chlorophyll In His Veins: J.C. Raulston, Horticultural Ambassador, is a new biography of Dr. J.C. Raulston. Co-authored by Raleigh locals Bobby Ward and Roy Dicks, the book is now available and is a must read for everyone.
Photo courtesy of the JC Raulston Arboretum.
Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at email@example.com.