Wilmot Gardens receives city beautification award

For 20 years, UF’s Wilmot Gardens were neglected, as vines, fallen pine trees and trash reclaimed them.

But former UF College of Medicine Dean C. Craig Tisher, M.D., and an army of dedicated volunteers have spent the past six years lovingly restoring the five-acre area at the corner of Gale Lemerand Drive and Mowry Road.

Recognizing those efforts, the City of Gainesville presented Wilmot Gardens with a 2012 Beautification Award on April 25.

“We were pleasantly surprised that we were nominated and even more pleased that we won,” said Tisher. “For me, it was an acknowledgement that volunteers can accomplish great things.”

C. Craig Tisher, M.D. (right) and Linda Luecking hold the city beautification award they received for UF's Wilmot Gardens. The pair were the driving force in the extensive renovation of the five-acre garden, located at the corner of Gale Lemerand Drive and Mowry Road. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Since renovations started in 2006, Wilmot Gardens has bloomed into a natural jewel, nestled on the Health Science Center campus near the Shands at UF and Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The gardens now attract students, employees, patients and families to its tranquil setting.

“It’s just a beautiful attribute to the community,” said Earline Luhrman, a City of Gainesville urban forestry inspector and city beautification board liaison.

Linda Luecking, Wilmot Gardens’ project coordinator and one of Tisher’s most dedicated volunteers, said it is the first award that Wilmot Gardens has received.

“It’s a true validation that what we are doing actually means something to people,” she said.

And even bigger plans for Wilmot Gardens are on the horizon. Currently, Tisher and Luecking are applying for a major multi-year grant to develop the southwest part of Wilmot Gardens into an area for therapeutic horticulture, adding a greenhouse, raised community garden beds and a water feature. The grant includes a research project studying the effects of therapeutic horticulture on VA patients suffering from chronic pain.

“If we are successful with this grant, we can fulfill two other missions of the Health Science Center—research and education,” Tisher said.