Perspectives Online

Coastal horticulturalist shares clean water goals with Port City

Extension urban horticulture agent Charlotte Glen focuses her work on conservation and environmental improvement.
Photo by Art Latham

Charlotte Glen's horticultural philosophy stresses water quality goals in a county where water helps drive the economy, especially as spring gardening and tourism seasons arrive.

Glen, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension urban horticulture agent in Wilmington, spreads that philosophy, as do her fellow horticulture agents, during weekly "Coastal Gardener" news segments that air on the local ABC affiliate, WWAY News Channel 3.

"I incorporate water quality issues in all of my horticulture outreach," says Glen, who's also arboretum coordinator at the Cooperative Extension Center in New Hanover County. "The end result of our efforts - such as reduced pesticide and fertilizer use and water conservation - is to protect water quality and the environment."

In fact, a just-completed master plan projects the seven-acre arboretum as a demonstration site for coastal stormwater best management practices, as well as a living laboratory for environmentally sound landscape practices and plant trials.

"I'm naturally interested in native wetland plants and have worked with plant selection for several projects, including wetlands, bioretention/rain gardens and stream restoration, some in the ground, others still on paper," she says.

Because she thinks such partnerships increase an agent's impact, Glen has used that interest to assist Wilmington's Storm Water Services Department with plant selection.

For one project, she contributed extensive reference lists of wetlands and bioretention plants for the department's "Citizen's Guide to Protecting Wilmington's Waterways," also available online. Her taped interviews air on government television, including segments on rain barrels and rain gardens that accompany identical chapters in the "Citizen's Guide."

Glen and other New Hanover Extension agents also partner regularly with local municipalities, the Soil and Water Conservation District and non-profit organizations such as Cape Fear River Watch.

"My job is probably different from most other horticulture agents' because our office is surrounded by a free-to-the public arboretum open seven days a week," she notes. That's a lot of hours, but as Cooperative Extension's coastal horticultural laboratory, the arboretum serves lowlanders as a horticultural resource center. "We provide useful, accurate and current research-based horticultural information, with a focus on our unique coastal climate, to everybody," she says.

Her consumer/urban horticulture work is more about conservation and environmental improvement than enhancing agricultural systems, Glen thinks, and she has plenty of room to demonstrate such projects. For instance, the striking Southeast Xeriscape (water-saving) demonstration includes drought- and heat-resistant succulents like yucca, agave and the prickly, related Dasylirion.

And as coordinator, Glen collects and organizes various volunteers, groups and staffers who contribute to the gardens' maintenance and development and help with various shows, sales and tours. She pitches volunteerism's virtues in her writings in "The Arboretum," the joint newsletter of New Hanover County Cooperative Extension, The Arboretum Foundation and the Master Gardener Association.

"Volunteering in the gardens provides a wonderful, relaxing form of exercise that works out your body while you learn," Glen says. "And we're about to start a program to train volunteers to assist homeowners install residential rain gardens."

Glen, who grew up in Jones County, was previously a horticulturist in Kinston, where she learned the rain garden concept from Bill Hunt, Neuse Education Team member and Cooperative Extension stormwater specialist at N.C. State.

She began her Extension career in 2000 in Johnston County as consumer horticulture agent, transferred to New Hanover County in May 2002 in the same capacity and was named an urban horticulture agent and arboretum coordinator there in 2004.

The center's staff includes other Cooperative Extension horticulture specialists, both consumer and commercial. It also houses the state's only horticultural therapy agent, whose program serves the mentally and physically challenged; and a horticultural technician.

-Art Latham