Urban wilderness: Jill Trischman-Marks brings her love of nature to McIntire Botanical Garden

The new and first appointed executive director of the McIntire Botanical Garden will lead the realization of a park designed by renowned landscape architect Mikyoung Kim. Photo: Mikyoung Kim Design The new and first appointed executive director of the McIntire Botanical Garden will lead the realization of a park designed by renowned landscape architect Mikyoung Kim. Photo: Mikyoung Kim Design

Jill Trischman-Marks bears the title executive director in her new role at McIntire Botanical Garden, but
she calls herself its chief cheerleader. Her enthusiasm for the outdoors and all things wild (and some cultivated) is so abundant that the self-proclaimed title fits. As the first person to head up the nonprofit civic effort, Trischman-Marks, a landscape architect, brings decades of design and horticultural experience to the job.

And what a job it is. Trischman-Marks will guide the realization of an eight-and-a-half acre design by Boston- based landscape architect Mikyoung Kim, whose projects also include the Chicago Botanic Garden. Kim is quite a catch. A recipient of the 2018 Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award and the American Society of Landscape Architects Design Medal, her firm was named by Fast Company this year as one of the world’s most innovative businesses. Working in tandem with Charlottesville’s Waterstreet Design, Kim will transform the McIntire Park parcel into a showcase of the Piedmont landscape—and what Trischman-Marks believes will be central Virginia’s premier botanical garden.

Jill Trischman-Marks holds a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the UVA School of Architecture and has worked in the field—and in her own garden—for 30 years. Photo: Virginia Hamrick

The garden plans have been in the works since 2015, and it’s going to be a challenge for Trischman-Marks to bring them to life. It helps that a world-class design team is in place, and that the new executive director is charging ahead with great energy. She’s definitely going to need it as she pushes to secure $600,000 to complete the design phase and then see the project through to completion.

Trischman-Marks has no shortage of confidence that she will succeed, and introduce local residents and visitors alike to a space that will bring them closer to nature just a short jaunt from downtown Charlottesville.

Unbound: As a longtime resident of Charlottesville, what makes you most excited about the plans for McIntire Botanical Garden?

Trischman-Marks: The garden will be a free and accessible destination. It will be a community nest of sorts, a nurturing, safe space where visitors can learn, relax, and celebrate the natural beauty of the Piedmont with Virginia’s flora as the background.

Free and accessible—let’s talk more about that.

The “free” aspect is a given with the space we’re in, as a part of McIntire Park and this project being in partnership with the City of Charlottesville. As a free community asset, it will become more relevant, vital, and beloved—a space for the whole community to grow. Children will grow up here, become parents one day, and remember their own childhood memories and come back. Generations will help maintain the garden.

It’s clear that it will take some time to build the landscape. What’s going on at the garden now?

As a part of McIntire Park, the space is open for people to enjoy. It’s not a curated garden yet—it’s in process. We’ve already cleared nearly four acres of invasive plants. The best way to maximize an experience in the landscape now is to go when a garden representative is there during our butterfly, bird, and tree walks.

What’s next?

We just completed the schematic phase for the future site and the next phase will be design development, where we think about things like drainage and walls for deer protection. We’re holding a community night on October 10 at City Space from 5:30-7:30pm to share new schematics and garden updates. Visioning walks will follow in the spring.

We know you’re passionate about the outdoors. Can you speak about the importance of a garden vs. native plants and habitat?

A botanical garden is a curated garden, where the best of what’s available is pulled out for display as a community resource. The celebration of the Piedmont region is our key goal. We want a design that speaks to plant communities as opposed to individual species of plants, where everything is working together as a habitat for pollinators and to improve air quality.

Climate change is obviously a pressing issue. What’s your perspective on how it influences the botanical garden?

I’ve spent the past 30 years not just as a landscape architect, but also in my own garden, and it has affected my own thinking every single day. I have weeds in my garden I’ve never seen before. All the rules are being broken, growing zones and temperatures are changing. Our team is always thinking about that and what it means.

Which central Virginia flora are you most interested in highlighting in the space, and why?

In my own garden and most of the gardens I’ve dealt with  in the past, there’s enormous deer pressure. Since the garden will be protected by deer fencing, plants will be given the opportunity to grow and thrive. Old species will be coming back, and we’ll have a chance to see our understory friends again.

McIntire Botanical Garden has been a dream of many in the community for a long time. Can you speak to that?

We’re so fortunate that years ago people like Albemarle County resident Helen Flamini advocated for a botanical garden in Charlottesville, and that the city’s Parks and Recreation department had the foresight to think of McIntire Botanical Garden. Without them, there would be no garden. We have a talented and committed board of directors and hard-working volunteer corps who are helping to make this signature community asset a reality.

At a glance:

Jill Trischman-Marks

Born: Connecticut

Years in  Charlottesville: 30

Education: 1992 Master of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia; 1981 Bachelor of Science, Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont

Profession: Started her landscape architecture firm in 2001; now MBG executive director

Spouse: William (Bill) Marks, owner of Marks Fine Woodworking

Children: Elizabeth, 24

Pets: Two dogs, Crockett and Inca, plus “whatever Service Dog of Virginia puppy is being fostered
at our home at any given time.”

Pet-peeves:My husband and I are cyclists, and it always gets me when we take a long bike ride on a beautiful day and don’t see anyone else outside.”

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