The Arboretum at UMO…A Hidden Gem in Wayne County

The Arboretum at UMO…A Hidden Gem in Wayne County

April 25, 2022
Contact:  Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations

 The University of Mount Olive is known for many things.  Academic excellence and award winning athletics top the list.  However, a lesser known marvel lies on the south side of campus.  Just past the soccer field and the tennis courts is the entrance to what is simply known as the Arboretum.  Started in 2012 as merely a vision, this hidden gem is a continual work in progress that features over 150 plant varieties along with creative areas that encourage rest and reflection.

From season to season, the three-acre arboretum showcases a variety of color and splendor as annuals and perennials are sprinkled throughout the winding paths.  Rocks, sculpture, and benches add to the allure of the space.  Agriculture students use the space as an educational learning lab to study plant varieties.  Visitors use the tranquil escape for walking, thinking, reading, and simply taking in nature’s beauty.

Below is an interview with Tim Warren, Director of Agricultural Facilities Operations at the University of Mount Olive.  Warren’s interest, insight, and instruction, coupled with hard work and perseverance have shaped a once barren section of the campus into a beautiful and ever-evolving destination.

Q.  How did the Arboretum come about?
A.  The idea for the Arboretum was born in 2012 from Dr. Sandy Maddox, Dean of the School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences and the University’s leadership team. It was envisioned that the space would be used by agriculture classes for plant identification purposes and as a teaching tool.  It was also envisioned that it would be a park-like space for the surrounding community to enjoy. When I started in the fall of 2014, I was asked to implement the plan.

Q.  Who came up with the design?
A.  The original design was made by Edith Chestnut, a professional landscape designer. The arboretum is subdivided into the formal, children’s, native, and Japanese gardens.  The basic design has been maintained with some adaptations included to meet our specific needs.

Q.  How does progress on the Arboretum unfold year-after-year?
A.  In 2013, the area was cleared along with the installation of walkways and irrigation lines. In early 2015, some of the larger trees and beds were established, along with turf grasses. That same year, student constructed benches were added to the space. Plantings continue to occur annually and the space is forever a work in progress as plants come and go and are ever changing.

Q.  How many different plant varieties are grown in the Arboretum?
A.  At least 150 different plant varieties are in the arboretum. Our goal is to have specimens of all the plants that grow in our climate that are on the Certified Plant Professional (CPP) list which changes every few years as the industry introduces new plant materials for landscape use.

Q.  What is the main goal for the Arboretum?
A.  Our primary focus is educating our students about identification and care of various plant material. It allows students and student workers to develop skills that are necessary to be successful in the plant industry. Each student that has worked in the Arboretum has left a mark of himself or herself in the arboretum. As such, the Arboretum serves as a point of pride for the students that have helped to make the UMO Arboretum what it is today. The secondary goal is to create and maintain an outdoor space that is pleasing for visitors to exercise or relax.

Q.  What classes utilize the space, and what are they studying?
  The main course that uses the space is AGE 321. “Plant Identification Utilization and Management” which prepares the students to take the Certified Plant Professional test offered by The North Carolina Nursery Landscape Association (NCNLA). The students have to take a 100 question written test and then identify at least 70 of 120 plants to be certified. Also, AGE 240 “Introduction to Horticulture” uses the space for instruction on how to prune, plant, and care for plants in the landscape setting.

Q.  What are some of the unique aspects of the Arboretum?
There are a variety of large rocks used as accents along the paths. There is an arbor which was built by students in my AGE 150 class (Wood and Metal Technology). It has vines that bloom in fall and spring, and is a favorite spot for students to relax out of the sun. The pergola, also constructed by students, will eventually be covered with wisteria to provide another shady resting space.  The Zen garden and Tori gate define the Japanese garden. We rake the rocks to give it a pattern similar to Zen gardens that I have seen in recent trips to Kyoto. The Katakana writing on the Tori gate sign translate as “Mount Olive University.” My favorite place is what I call the “thinking rock” just outside of the Zen garden.  It is a place where I can sit and reflect on things of concern or joy. We recently added a “fire ant” sculpture in the butterfly garden area.  This novelty item seems to be a conversation piece for visitors of all ages.

Q.  How do you showcase the differing plant varieties each season?
  The plants put on a show all by themselves. Some flowers are short lived and others stay around for a while. There is usually something blooming or, will be very soon, throughout the year. The cherry blossoms were beautiful this year.

Q.  How often do students work in the Arboretum?
A.   It just depends, this semester I have eight student workers available for a total of 35 man hours of work. They do most of the work in the arboretum and also work in our shop and fitness garden. This semester I have student workers available four days each week. Student workers are the key to development and maintenance of the Arboretum.  Their main responsibilities are weeding and mulching beds, weed eating, cutting grass, and planting, watering, and pruning plants.

Q.  What advice you offer to individuals thinking about visiting the Arboretum?
  Since there are no lights, dawn to dusk is the time you would want to visit the Arboretum. I do plan to add some accent lighting in the future to allow for some use in the evenings when it is cooler for walkers. Be aware that some days the irrigation does not turn off until 8 AM. Anyone is welcome to come visit the Arboretum. It is a great way to see what plants thrive in this area and which plants are challenged. There are numerous benches and places to sit and enjoy the fresh air and scenery.

Q.  Have there been any special events/occasions that you know of in the space?  Is it open for such?  Who could people contact to know more?
  I have seen several photographers use the Arboretum for graduation, engagement, and general photography. As of now, there are no permit requirements and it is open to anyone for this use. Before planning an event, contact us for preapproval. and remember to leave the Arboretum as you found it.

Q.  What if someone wanted to donate time, money, or plants to the Arboretum, who or how would they do so?
Our students, staff, and faculty volunteer to work at the NCNLA “Green and Growing” show each year. Many of the plants in the Arboretum have been donated by nurseries from that show. Of special interest to many people is the option to make a donation towards a memorial plant in honor or memory of a loved one.  Anyone interested in donating time or money to the Arboretum can contact me, Edward Olive, or Dr. Sandy Maddox.  All donations of time, money, or resources are welcomed.

Q.  Is there anything else that you would like to add?
A.  The Arboretum is a collective effort that has encompassed thousands of hours of labor. As a team, we have accomplished a great deal in the past ten years.  None of what we have at the Arboretum would be possible without the vision of Dr. Maddox and our UMO leadership team, as well as the hard work by our students.  It is our goal that, as the Arboretum continues to change and grow, it will be place for present and future people to enjoy for many years to come,

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University is sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.  For more information, visit