When Dr. Chester Morse of Massachusetts and Eugenia Slack Morse of Decatur first moved to this wooded land in 1946, Scott Boulevard was a dirt road and their property, an old farm site, was a honeysuckle jungle. Chet and Gene added to their original small parcel to create the 7-acre tract that is now Woodlands Garden. In 2002, Chet and Gene Morse arranged to have their Decatur home and its surrounding seven acres permanently preserved from development, so future generations could experience and enjoy their wooded estate. They understood the importance of tempering Decatur’s rapid urbanization (projected 29 percent growth in 20 years) and turned down large offers from developers.
Since 2002 the family and community have created a remarkable collaboration. Woodlands Garden is now a 501c3 nonprofit with a dedicated Board of Directors who honor the Morse Family vision to open the garden to the community. Now the property serves as a unique showcase for plants and trees native to the north Georgia Piedmont. The Board of Directors pursues a Strategic Plan to achieve the mission of Woodlands Garden:
Preserving a woodland garden as an urban sanctuary to educate and engage the community in the natural world.
The original home is now the Visitor Center and offices. A second larger home, built to accommodate a family that grew to four children and 13 grandchildren, was deconstructed in 2012, according to the owners’ wishes and the original master plan. This large sunny area will soon welcome all kinds of creatures with extensive pollinator gardens, bird baths, sitting areas, and a small shelter.
Woodlands Garden has completed Phase I of the Strategic Plan: building a sustainable board; raising capital funds to make basic improvements to the grounds; creating a master plan for the property and a planting plan of Piedmont natives; installing over 400 plants and trees; outfitting an existing building for office space; hiring a Garden Manager and Executive Director; developing a fundraising plan; and opening the garden to the public full-time.
Phase II of the plan is now underway: providing a safe accessible entry and adequate parking; welcoming visitors with information and public restrooms; transforming a sunny open area into a pollinator garden and gathering spot. Construction on all these improvements will begin in 2016.