By Ken Moore
Many years ago I learned that â€œplant nutâ€ is an endearing term for any man or woman who is truly passionate about plants. â€œPlant nutsâ€ want to grow and know everything about any plant that catches their fancy.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro have lots of plant nuts, and youâ€™d be surprised at whatâ€™s out in the county hereabouts where there is room to grow any and everything.
One of these plant nuts is Dr. Charlie Keith. There will be a rare opportunity to visit his plant-nut paradise, Keith Arboretum, on Sunday, Oct. 21 from 1 to 5 p.m. Though Charlieâ€™s personal arboretum has been visited by horticultural and botanical societies over the past decade or two, there has never been an opportunity for the general gardening public to visit.
Local plant nuts who have already visited will jump at this opportunity for another visit. For the rest of us, I have a hunch that this singular visit to the Keith Arboretum will result in a whole new crop of plant nuts who will return home with visions of reclaiming their own home turf, of whatever dimension, as a plant-nut paradise.
In the early 1970s I house-sat for Charlie and Barbara Keith during their summer vacations. Barbara, sadly now deceased, was the original gardener, creating an American-style English cottage garden all around their old farmhouse and outbuildings. Watering those plants during the summer heat and drought was enjoyable, but I was always intimidated by caring for the hundreds of potted orchids, ferns, cacti and succulents inside the old farmhouse.
During those early years, Charlie was busy as a child psychiatrist at Duke, and I remember him coming home to relax and beginning to become interested in planting some woody plants to complement Barbaraâ€™s herbaceous passion.
I vaguely recollect back then having to water a few of Charlieâ€™s newly planted woody specimens planted a little distance out from the old farmhouse. I also remember that Charlieâ€™s keenness for plants possessed him rather quickly. Early on he began importing from Englandâ€™s renowned Hillierâ€™s Nursery every plant that he thought might have a chance of survival in our North Carolina Piedmont.
Well now, 40 years later, Charlieâ€™s passion has matured to an unbelievable 25-acre arboretum of more than 4,000 labeled trees and shrubs, some common, some rare and all most interesting as an assemblage of the great diversity of the plant kingdom.
Charlieâ€™s second wife, Muki, continues to support Charlieâ€™s role as a plant nut.
So mark the date, Sunday, Oct. 21, 1-5 pm, to plan your visit, and check out the website (keitharboretum.org) for more information about the collection, which includes 76 species of pines, 112 species of oaks and 103 species of maples, not counting cultivars of each.
The arboretum is located on Marionâ€™s Ford Road, 2.4 miles west of Calvander on Dairyland Road.
Donâ€™t miss this plant adventure!
Email Ken Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.