Atlanta Botanical grows support for ‘Nourish and Flourish’ enhancements

With the ground barely settled under the $55 million, two-phase expansion of the Atlanta Botanical Garden completed in 2010, it's hard to believe that the Midtown attraction is in the early stages of additional major improvements that its leaders predict will be equally transformative.

But the evidence of progress being funded by the ongoing $50 million Nourish and Flourish Capital Campaign is becoming more apparent by the day.

The "garden rooms" of Storza Woods at the northern end of the 30-acre garden — boasting new walkways, bridges, water features and shrubs flowering under mature hardwoods — opened in May. Repairs and infrastructure upgrades are complete at the 26-year-old Fuqua Conservatory. And construction fencing has gone up this week around the site for Linton's in the Garden, chef Linton Hopkins' "plant-to-plate" concept that will be set in a contemporary, two-story, glass structure expected to open next spring.

Next up: The Children’s Garden will close this fall and undergo two renovation phases expected to be completed by summer 2016.

These are but the early bloomers in a series of enhancements unfurling through 2018. They include three new gardens, notable among them the Skyline Gardens overlooking Midtown and downtown’s high-rises; a new entry, expanded classroom space and other enhancements to the Training and Conservation Center (including an interpretive gallery for the Fuqua Orchid Center); and expansion and renovation of Garden House, the administrative building where the popular Café at Linton’s will be converted into an event space.

All this is being underwritten by the Nourish and Flourish Capital Campaign that had a $40 million goal when it was made public just last September, with $22.5 million in commitments already in place.

Encouraged by the positive early fundraising, garden leaders raised the target to $50 million. With $44 million pledged now, the campaign is expected to be wrapped by next summer.

The fundraising was boosted by this week's announcement of a $1 million grant from the James M. Cox Foundation.

Anne Cox Chambers, a Cox Enterprises director and a lifetime garden trustee, gave the capital campaign’s lead gift of $4.36 million and followed that up with $5 million in endowment support. Cox Enterprises owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Other longtime garden supporters have made key donations, including $15 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and $1 million from Fuqua family foundations. All 34 garden board members also have stepped up.

ABG president and CEO Mary Pat Matheson attributes the Nourish and Flourish support — coming so soon on the heels of the $55 million Green Expansion at Midtown and the $21 million first phase of the 168-acre Gainesville satellite garden that opened in May — to a root belief in the garden's mission.

Nourish and Flourish is “more eclectic” than the Green Expansion and “more focused on the visitor experience,” garden president Matheson said.

“It’s going to enable us to serve our guests at a higher level, to have a wonderful experience with new gardens and also great food,” she continued. “It really affects the programmatic side of the garden and positions us to grow and be successful for the next 20 years.”

Does that mean that Matheson, who took over in 2002 with a strong grow-the-garden agenda, will be done building when Nourish and Flourish is complete?

“Nope, I’m not done. Never done,” she said with an earthy laugh. “There’s still a long way.”