Mar 18th, 2014

Mementos of Change

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden  

By now you’ve heard about our new Cherry Tree Walk, but did you ever wonder what we do with the wood when we have to cut down a tree that is diseased or damaged? For a few years now, my 9-year-old son has been a fan of one of the vendors at the South of the James Market: Wood Carver Tom Lowe.  We go there weekly to pick up our CSA — and whenever we have extra time to wander, Tom’s stand is the first place he wants to go (after he gets a donut of course!)

When the Garden recently took down some damaged  cherry, willow and oak trees at the Garden, in the process of building the Cherry Tree Walk, I immediately thought of Tom for the wood. He has taken a great interest in explaining to me and  my son about the different types of wood he works with (think Osage orange wood that is a bright yellow-orange). I wasn’t sure if Tom would remember us, but I had a feeling he might, because how often do you have a 9-year-old boy choose a hand-carved bowl for his Christmas present? And who is roped in by the idea of learning about different kinds of wood.  Tom’s dedication to education about the wood reminded me of the Garden’s commitment to educating our visitors about plants.

Tom Lowe

Wood Carver Tom Lowe with some of the works he made with surplus wood from the Garden.

Tom emailed me right back: “I remember your son taking his time deciding which bowl to choose. I love that. My whole life has been spent making things from wood that make people happy. It is even more fulfilling when someone can’t decide what they like most. Thank you for passing my name along to Grace. It would be a pleasure  to create some pieces from trees that came from the garden.”

Yesterday was the big day. Tom worked with our Director of Horticulture, Grace Chapman, to arrange the pick up of the wood that was left over, and he was ready to meet with us and the rest of the horticulture staff to show off his art. You can see some of his seaweed-like pieces in the photo above, but I have to warn you, the camera can’t do it justice. If you want to see the real-deal in person, you are in luck! The large oak sculpture on the left side of the table will be on display in the Robins Visitor Center for the next few weeks. Tom made it as a gift to the Garden! So come in and enjoy it.  If you love it, you are in luck too — the sculpture will be auctioned off at our annual Children’s Garden fundraiser  Cheers to Art, on April 10th, 2014. Tickets are still available.

Cotinus coggygria

Cotinus coggygria freshly carved.

Me and the bowl made from an oak tree.

That’s me and the small rectangular bowl that Tom made from a damaged oak that was cut down at the Garden.

While he was here, Grace also gave Tom a branch of Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ (Smoketree) that was pruned during our recent group work day. Grace thought  the rings were especially beautiful and so did Tom! What do you think?

You can probably tell why Tom’s so good at what he does — he loves his work. As I was leaving, Tom pulled me aside. “Wait, you have to pick a small bowl to take with you.” And when I brought it home, you should have seen my son’s eyes when he saw the rectangle bowl that Tom gave me.  He was very excited, and happy for me because he knows how much I love the Garden — and to have a small memento of a place I love. Change brings all kinds of beauty.

And this morning when I wanted to listen to my iphone, but didn’t have a speaker handy, guess what I did? Yep, I placed my iphone in the bowl and the music got louder and sounded like heaven.

wood bowl as an amplifier.

Tom’s bowl as a makeshift amplifier.


To learn more about Tom Lowe and his wood sculptures, visit his blog.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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