Bog Garden Trail Guide

Right in the middle of Greensboro's urban setting is one of the city's most unusual parks.  In contrast to formal gardens, the Bog Garden is left wild and ungroomed, much like a nature preserve. Once unknown to most residents, the roots of the garden go back to 1987 when Dr. Joe Christian and his wife were strolling through the adjacent Bicentennial Garden.  Christian saw a large bass in the creek, and followed it downstream to the Starmount property across the street.  Trash and weeds choked the old lake, but Christian was struck by the yellow water iris, ferns and wildflowers -- elements of a natural bog that could be beautiful and accessible.  When Blanche Benjamin donated the land to the city of Greensboro the same year, the dream of restoring the bog became a reality.  Today, boardwalks loop over the marshy ground, and garden areas bear the names of dedicated volunteers who worked tirelessly to create the garden thousands of citizens now enjoy each day.

A plethora of trees, shrubs and perennials, predominately native, border the paths that loop through the Bog Garden.  In a landscape left wild to accommodate the original inhabitants of this low-elevation deciduous forest -- chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and numerous bird species -- plants blossom and fade, scrambling over one another as the seasons progress.  The tidy sprouts of March are lost in the faded tangle of stem and vine that greets October; yet the color provided by viburnum, rose and holly gone to seed, the pale splotches of patterns on sycamore trunks, and the peeling bark of birches command our attention even as Autumn's bright leaves are trampled underfoot.  Nature's pruning is respected, augmented by human hands only to maintain existing paths.

Feather & Fronds Trail
This trail provides feeding stations and water for birds and shaded benches for easy observation.  Gold finch, white-breasted nuthatch, cardinal, blue jay, catbird, brown thrasher, tufted titmouse, mockingbird, bluebird, Carolina chickadee, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy and red-breasted woodpecker frequently fill the area with color, chatter and song.  An earthen bridge framed in stone spans the damp trace on the inner perimeter.

Boardwalk Trail
Spring is heralded by the cheerful yellow marsh marigold and the native Trillium cuneatum (purple toad shade) as you approach the creekside walk.   The creek flowing between the paved walkways is home to wild mallard ducks year-round.   Each spring and summer, new families of ducklings paddle along behind their brown speckled mothers.  

Connecting the loop path is the Taylor Bridge, made of recycled soda bottles.  The rocks below provide a place for the occasional water snake to sun himself in the early spring. Beyond the bridge runs a perpetually wet area, providing the perfect site for stands of winterberry holly, swamp roses and wild azaleas.  As the standing water deepens, colonies of Iris pseudacorus (yellow flag) appear, blossoming reliably every May and June.

Over the Hutson Bridge and onto the wooden boardwalk are the alluvial woods and thickets of a small island -- a good place to spot a scurrying muskrat, a plodding box turtle, or a reclusive owl.

Across the creek again, we walk above the wetland as our boardwalk approaches the 7-acre lake.  The twisted, often reclining trunks of black willow dominate, interspersed with Lindera benzoin, an understory tree known as spicebush due to its highly aromatic leaves, and the scraggly shrub elderberry, valued for its flat-topped clusters of delicate white flowers in June and its purplish-black berries that feed songbirds into August.  Close enough to touch are roses, swamp dogwood, witch hazel, St. John's Wort, and a non-native introduction, the European cranberry bush with crimson berries persisting through the winter to provide wildlife with emergency food.

Benjamin Lake
From Annie B's Viewpoint, several species of herons can be seen standing motionless, partially obscured, ready to snatch a minnow from the shallows.  When not at rest in the shade, the friendly mallards spend much of their time eating bread tossed by visitors, keeping a wary eye out for aggressive Canada geese known to enjoy the same treat.  These waterfowl spend the entire year with us, but winter visitors may include northern shoveler and bufflehead ducks, sandpipers and seagulls, coots and galinules.  Foxes and river otters have also been known to inhabit the area.

Swarms of catfish surface in the summer, seeming to stand on their tails to swallow morsels intended for ducks.  An avid competitor is the snapping turtle, not hesitating to assert himself in the midst of other species, unlike the more reticent pond slider turtle seen basking on fallen timber at some distance from the crowd.  The creek and lake also harbor some large-mouth bass, bream and crappie -- but note that no fishing is allowed from the boardwalk.

Those familiar with coastal Carolina will notice plants included from that region -- the bald cypress growing in and near the water, the large shrub wax myrtle with its spice-scented leaves, and the tall clumps of perennial marsh mallow that bear pink or white saucer-size blooms in July.

As the boardwalk turns to loop back into the woods, waxy-leafed aquatic plants are visible in warm months along the water's edge and on very low ground.  Among these is Peltandra virginica, a clump-former with large, dark-green, arrow-shaped leaves.  Dozens of peltandra can be seen propagating themselves by burying their seedheads in the mud each September.

Between lake and woods grow an assortment of wildflowers striving for dominance --giant sunflower, New England aster, ironweed, swamp milkweed, railroad vine and jewelweed.  As the Nell Lewis Trail rejoins the boardwalk, masses of green-headed coneflower aim for the August sun with pink turtlehead, red cardinal flower and the fragrant white boneset making their late-summer appearance.  The shadier portions of this low flood plain are graced with colonies of large fern species -- ostrich, sensitive, cinnamon, and royal.

A respite from summer's heat is the Cathedral area where the boardwalk hovers low among towering sycamore, sweetgum and hickories that allow only dappled sunlight to reach the forest floor.  Here the white atamasco lilies bloom in early April, accompanied by the unfurling fiddleheads of numerous ferns.  Uprooted trees are evidence of our many recent storms.

Intersecting with the boardwalk is a short, creekside trail.  Creamy blossoms of the local buckeye can be seen here among fallen timbers in late April.  Thickets often reveal birds at work, particularly brown thrashers pulling worms from the damp ground.

As the boardwalk rejoins the paved walk, a group of native paw paw trees grow in the shade of taller trees.  Although attractive, neither the paw paw's velvety, maroon flowers of March, which precede the leaves, nor the pale green, pear-like fruits of August, hidden by leaves, are often seen by visitors.  The sweet, edible fruit bruises easily when it falls, and is quickly attacked by insects.  At night it becomes a favorite treat for raccoons.  When handled, the large, dark-green leaves exude an odor not unlike used motor oil.

Off the south side of the concrete walk runs the Nell Lewis Trail.  Starting at the stone bridge over the wet weather creek, it rises into an upland deciduous forest before dropping again to the flood plain. Lizard tail plants and more Iris pseudacorus green the creekbed, while the path above is bordered with perennials, shrubs and ferns found in woodlands of the upper piedmont and foothills .  Many of these plants were gifts, but many more, including the colonies of Christmas fern, were dug by volunteers from sites scheduled for bulldozing or flooding.  At the trail's highest point, known as Melvin's Mountain, stands an ancient white oak still producing live growth.  Its trunk magnificently burled, this tree is estimated to be 300 years old.  In its shadow grow mature oak, beech, hickory and black gum trees.  Standing only 50 feet above the flood plain a stroller can entertain the illusion of a quiet, mountain trail, even as urban life carries on a few yards away. The top of the hill holds a variety of plants with identifying markers, as well as a low stone wall on which to sit and enjoy the rustle of leaves.  In the spring there is the tantalizing scent from blossoms of the twining yellow jessamine, making good progress on the fence.

Nell Lewis Trail
The trail drops sharply below Melvin's Mountain, coming very close to the storm-damaged trees that, even in death, nourish their environment.  Woodpeckers hollow homes in standing trunks.  A lucky visitor might spot a piliated woodpecker feeding on insects that gather in the decaying wood.  Prominent horizontal outgrowths of shelf fungi decorate tree remains, as weather and fungal organisms eventually reduce it to a line of rich black soil.

Water trickles under graceful bridges below the Collins Spillway, which becomes a torrent during heavy rain.  A shagbark hickory stands sentinel, its grey bark arranged like elongated shingles, flaring freely at the bottom.  Here the wet weather creek holds water year-round and is home to minnows trapped by the last rain storm.  Schools of fry can be seen beneath the low footbridge in wet weather.

This lowland is not the place to plan a brisk walk, for the exhilaration of quiet discovery would be denied.  Its paths are for one to tread softly, while reflecting upon what is arriving, blossoming or fading, lost in deep pools of thought, in a place that beckons a frequent return.

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