JLBG's History & Milestones

Garden Development - In the Beginning

Juniper Level Botanic Garden, JLBG, was established in 1988 when Raleigh native Tony Avent and his wife Michelle M. Avent purchased a 2.2 acre abandoned sandy loam tobacco field in Southern Wake County in central North Carolina. Approximately 20 minutes south of downtown Raleigh, NC, Juniper Level is located between the rural farming communities of Willow Spring and Panther Branch, and is, unfortunately, no longer included on county or state maps.

The garden name originated from "junipers" which used to grow along nearby Juniper Branch. These plants were likely either Chamaecyparis thyoides or Juniperus virginiana. Conifers are not new to the area, since more than a ton of 90 million year old (Cretaceous Period) petrified conifers and sabal palm trees have been excavated from the JLBG property. The southern term "Level" is used for the flat areas between creeks, hence the community name, Juniper Level.

Garden Development - Design Philosophy

The garden was designed using the philosophy of "drifts of one" to showcase a diverse collection of ornamental plants in an aesthetic and relaxed setting. There were no drawn plans for the garden as formal planting plans may limit creativity and often leave a garden without an essence or soul.

While the original site was fairly flat, berms and elevation changes were created by moving soil around on-site to increase planting area and add aesthetic relief changes to the garden. The garden is designed for year-round interest with peak season from late April through mid-October.

Garden Development - The Soil

The native soil pH at JLBG was an acidic 3.2 pH sandy loam, with virtually no Potassium, no Nitrogen, and little microbial activity due to its use as a tobacco farm. All planting areas have now been raised to a pH of 6.0-6.5 and have been amended with 50% compost, lime, and Greensand. No chemical fertilizers have been used in the garden since 1988.

Garden Development - Initial Garden Construction: 1988 - 1995

The initial construction project included an underground irrigation system, a second well, and a gazebo well-house. The construction of numerous raised beds and initial plantings occurred in 1989.

Excavation of the grotto garden also began in 1989 (all hand-dug by Avent) and grotto construction was completed in November 1994 under the direction of the former Gallucci-Halligan Sculpture Studio of Greensboro. The grotto walk and back patio areas were completed by the skilled staff at Envisions Pavers of Raleigh in 1995.

Plant Delights Nursery was also established in 1988 to provide a source of unique, unusual, and native perennial plants for passionate gardeners and to provide a funding source for JLBG for further plant research, plant exploration, plant breeding, and garden maintenance.

From 1988 through 1994, six greenhouses were built on the original property. In 1989, JLBG and Plant Delights Nursery held the first of the now-famous weekend open nursery and garden days, with all plants displayed for sale in the newly constructed garage.

In 1991, Plant Delights Nursery published its first mail-order catalog, offering a selection of JLBG's new, rare, native, and unusual perennials to plant enthusiasts nationwide. In subsequent years, many new features were added to the initial garden, including a woodland garden, a bog garden, several rock gardens, a southwest garden, a hardy tropical garden, a sunken garden, a garden waterfall, grotto garden, numerous creeks, along with several perennial and mixed borders.

The bog gardens serve as retention and purification areas for nursery and garden runoff but are also fed by natural springs, with flow regulated through a small pump. Bog and marginal plants serve as a natural filtration system allowing recycled water to be naturally purified.

Garden Development 1996 - 1999

In April 1996, the Avents purchased an additional 5.25 acres of adjoining property and moved into the home on the new property. This new land allowed the expansion of the nursery production area, two additional wells and the construction of an expanded display garden as the collections continued to grow.

To level for greenhouses, 600 dump truck loads of soil were moved from the east end of the property. The soil was used to construct numerous raised beds including a miniature mountain. New garden features included a much-expanded 4-5' tall alpine scree bed, a larger southwestern landscape, a hardy tropical garden, and expanded shade gardens. Also constructed on the new property were expanded in-ground evaluation beds for both new shade and sun plants. A unique 200 foot driveway perennial border was installed along the garden exit drive in 1996 as well.

The original residence and garage on the first property were converted to nursery offices, shipping areas, and an Education Center in 1997. The function of the JLBG/Plant Delights Education Center is to offer outreach programs, educate gardeners—both locally and nationally—about all aspects of ornamental horticulture. A combination of classroom instruction and hands-on training in the garden provide an informative atmosphere for learning.

Garden Development 2000 - 2008

In 2001, the garden expanded once again, as the Avents were able to acquire an additional 11 acres of adjacent property. This new purchase allowed for expanded parking for Open Nursery and Garden Days as well as more production, research, plant trials and evaluations, and further expansion of the plant collections.

In 2004, 10,000 square feet of this new area was dedicated to trillium trials and production. In 2005, the research area was expanded by installing a Geophyte Test Bed on the south end of the property.

Also, in 2004, construction began on Mystic Falls, a new waterfall/bog garden bio-retention area, featuring an ornamental pond, paved patio, winding steps, a walled rock garden, and a 20' tall waterfall, constructed with the expertise of Asheboro's Two Oaks Studio. In 2006, Cattail Bridge over the recycling stream was installed by Gallucci Studios of Greensboro, NC.

Garden Development 2008 - 2012

In 2008, the Waterfall/Recycling Project was finally completed with the addition of a paver walk through the Sunken Garden, thanks to Envisions Paving of Raleigh. undefined

2008 also saw the relocation of shade perennials trials to a new 5,000 square foot structure on the back side of the property.

In 2008, 3.6 additional adjoining acres were purchased for expansion of shade trials and future gardens named after former neighbor, the late Eddy Souto. 2010 saw the initial preparations for the Souto Garden beds and in 2011 JLBG expanded the on-site composting facility to allow for increased production.

2012 was a sad year for Tony and the staff as their beloved and dear friend Michelle M. Avent passed away after a long and painful decline with an aggressive form of breast cancer (Oct. 31, 1956 - February 11, 2012). Michelle managed the administrative side of the nursery from its inception in 1988 until she was too ill to work. Her contributions to the nursery and gardens cannot be quantified.

Between 2008 and 2012 Plant Delights Nursery dramatically expanded field production capacity for rare perennials with longer production times. This space was/is shared with JLBG research, trials, and plant breeding evaluations.

Garden Development 2013 - 2014

Much like 2012, 2013 was also a pivotal year at JLBG. Tony married Anita A. White in 2013 and she established the Center for Mindfulness and Nonduality at Juniper Level Botanic Garden. Anita offers a nondual Christian perspective as she unfolds the perennial wisdom literature. She has taught meditation and mindfulness since 1992.

The Center for Mindfulness and Nonduality offers a serene refuge for individuals, inquiry groups, classes, and retreatants to simply notice and behold the impersonal nature of aware presence. Offering a wide array of tools, the Center points towards loosening the grip of knowing while demonstrating the body is not a solid and lasting personal entity as much as it may seem. The Center focuses on open-hearted meditative inquiry, an attitude of not-knowing, silence, walking meditations, and community, while welcoming what is appearing regardless of the texture.