Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve: Meet the Gardeners
Meet the staff at Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve
While Oscar Gamez and Wes Morgan are new to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s staff, the fun-loving pair are no strangers to Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve, the beautiful 79-acre estate in Hanover County, given to our Garden by the generous Cosby family. They have been tending to the Cosbys’ property for a long time, taking care of their extensive azalea and rhododendron collection (12,000 individual plants, 102 beds, and 1,800 varieties). This year marks Gamez’s seventh year with the Cosbys and Morgan’s fourth. “We’re always having a good time,” Gamez said. But you can also tell they are dedicated workers and work diligently even while keeping the atmosphere light and playful.
Gamez and Morgan, along with Chris Brown, a gardener who joined the Botanical Garden in 2013 and started working at Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve in April 2015, are the only three staff gardeners at the Reserve right now. A few dedicated volunteers help them out most Fridays.
While Brown started working at the Nature Reserve’s after Morgan and Gamez, he says he felt at home right away and had the most unique first day of work he had ever experienced. He first was greeted by Ed and Blackie, the Cosbys’ furry best friends, and the late Madeline Cosby gave him a welcoming hug. Then, he got to share a ride with Father Roy, Morgan, Gamez, Blackie, and Ed on a golf cart, touring the property and learning about the azalea areas, before he got down to organizing and preparing 120 new azaleas for planting (that’s certainly a lot for a first day!). “The welcome is always warm out there,” Brown said. “There is a true sense of family between the Cosbys, Wes, and Oscar and I was graciously welcomed into that environment.”
You may have heard about the Nature Reserve just recently, but the plan actually has been in place for almost four years now, ever since 2012 when the Cosbys created a family trust leaving their estate to our Garden. In 2015, they signed a deed to make their property Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve, and just this spring Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden official announced the exciting addition. Currently, there is no other plan but to work with and learn from the family members, who have been diligently growing and methodically documenting their collection for more than 30 years.
I had a chance to meet Brown, Gamez, and Morgan during a recent Garden staff and volunteer visit to the property. Amazingly, each grouping of the 12,000 plants is labeled, and this single specimen had been separated from its tag. While Brown was planting some petunias elsewhere, Gamez and Morgan were helping Monsignor Roy Cosby, age 93, re-label the rogue azalea group. The azaleas and their meticulously recorded plant database is a long-time hobby and passion for the whole family, especially Monsignor Cosby. This is only one Gamez and Morgan’s many tasks, from mowing the grass and mulching to plumbing and other maintenance through the seasons. Invariably, they also chauffeur fur friends Ed and Blackie around the garden. “They’re an integral part of the whole process,” Morgan said. “They’re golf-cart riders — Blackie in front, and Ed in the back.”
Besides seasonal maintenance tasks and identification, Brown, Gamez, Morgan, and the volunteers have planted 150 seedling of our native Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, along the trails in wooded areas, many of which have already leafed out healthily. They also planted several deciduous and native azalea varieties last year for the main beds in front of the house. “They had an incredible bloom this year for such young plants,” Brown said.
Both Gamez and Morgan came to know the Cosbys through pure coincidence. Gamez met Elizabeth and Madeline Cosby at the grocery store where he has been working for 20 years (and continues to work as a full time job). He works in a variety of departments, but his specialty at the grocery store is great customer service and he made a pretty big impression. Gamez always helps people find what they need no matter how busy he is. That’s also how he won the heart of the Cosby sisters and offered to be their gardener. “I used to stop what I was doing and did the shopping for them,” Gamez said. “One day, I asked them if they knew anyone who might need my help, and they said: ‘We don’t know anyone, but we do need someone.’ That’s how it started.”
Morgan has a different story. He learned about the Cosbys through his mother, who had been taking care of their youngest sibling, Andrew. After he retired, he decided he still wanted to work and this was a perfect second career. “I always knew that they had this big garden and I just wondered if the Cosbys needed any help,” he said. “So I came over to help them out and showed them that I am willing to learn.” In no time, the Cosbys asked if he could become their second gardener.
Both Morgan and Gamez had lots of experiences before they finally ended up at the Cosbys’ family farm. For them, being outside, enjoying each other’s company, and helping the Cosbys are what they find most rewarding about the job. Now with Brown joining the team, they are all having a good time, working hard while appreciating Lewis Ginter Nature Reserve’s serene quietude and feeling of peace and camaraderie.
“It is a quiet, beautiful, and calming place that is a direct reflection of the quiet, beautiful, and sincerely loving Cosby Family,” said Brown.