Many hands make light work, but in Cator Woolford Gardens, one specific pair of hands has done a lot of heavy lifting over the years. They belong to Jim Pruckler, a retired microbiologist who has spent countless hours volunteering in the garden. It’s his pleasure and passion.
Jim calls himself a grower. He enjoys grafting plants, acquiring cuttings from botanical gardens that are willing to share with him. He has a particular fascination with camellias. “I’m intrigued by the flower that blooms at the ‘wrong’ time of the year,” says Jim. Indeed, camellias are often the star of the winter show in Cator Woolford Gardens.
Jim is a member of the North Georgia Camellia Society. As such, he offers his time, expertise, and supplies to several gardens in Atlanta, including Woodlands Garden, Atlanta History Center, and Oakland Cemetery, as well as gardens throughout the state, such as Lockerly Arboretum in Milledgeville, and Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, the botanical headquarters of the American Camellia Society.
In Cator Woolford Gardens, Jim coordinates his efforts with garden designer Cooper Sanchez. Cooper’s vision is to keep the formal garden area as the focal point and primary site for weddings and events. The periphery, however, is prime for a more romantic garden feel, keeping a balance between design and nature.
Jim’s work has been focused on this peripheral area. Most of the plantings done this month have been three years in the making, from camellia cuttings acquired through Jim’s various garden connections and nurtured in Cator’s production yard.
The camellia genus has about three hundred species and about three thousand hybrids. Jim doesn’t like to play favorites, but he is particularly fascinated by the very rare and antique species. “I like the ones that are forgotten. I like to bring them back.”
Jim helps propagate a love for camellias, along with awareness and education, by making sure his plantings are labeled. He stamps the name of each camellia onto clay placards which he fires in his own kiln.
This past summer, COVID may have shut down events at Cator Woolford Gardens, but it didn’t stop Jim from carrying on with his projects. He is currently finishing up the restoration of a path on the north side of the garden. Erosion had rendered it hidden and useless, but Jim excavated the stone borders of the path, laid mulch, and to prevent future erosion, he repurposed wood from stairs at the old caretaker’s cottage (no longer accessible to visitors), and created plateaus along the pathway.
“Jim has done a lot of this with pretty much no budget,” says Mike Rogers, Frazer Center facilities staff member. “Almost everything he’s added has been acquired, done piece by piece each day. It would be a lot easier if things were purchased, but the amount of money we would have spent would have been in the thousands.”
On the corner of Ponce and Lakeshore Drive, after a storm brought down a large tree, Jim planted the area with unusual varieties. “It’s a collection of everything,” says Mike. “Come springtime it’ll be a whole space of color, especially in a year or two.”
Now that Jim and his wife are both retired from the CDC, they are planning to move to north Georgia where Jim can find more space to grow. He plans to check in on the garden from time to time, but he is now wrapping up this years-long project. He has been a true gift to Frazer and Cator Woolford Gardens, and his botanical magic will continue to shine on all who enter our “hidden gem,” especially during these winter months.
Cator Woolford Gardens is an event space and social enterprise of the Frazer Center. It is open to the public, yet it is not publicly funded land. The property is held in trust, and Frazer Center holds a lease and is responsible for maintaining the gardens and forest. Since Frazer is in the business of creating inclusive communities for people with and without disabilities, we rely heavily on donations and volunteers to keep the property beautiful and accessible to all.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Frazer Center, sign up here.