Paradise Restored

By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70

Photos by John Logan | Fry Hammond Barr

Rollins landscape
returns to its roots

The courtyard of Orlando Hall. Photo by John Logan | Fry Hammond Barr.

Natural Attraction. The tiny courtyard framed by Orlando Hall, Woolson House, and Sullivan House is a favorite of English majors who attend classes in the nearby buildings. The towering jacaranda was planted by Professor Emerita of English Jean West and Professor Emeritus of English Steven Phelan following their wedding in 1974.

In 1925, Rollins’ newly appointed president, Hamilton Holt, addressed College alumni with his vision for their alma mater. Just as he aspired to identify the architect of the most beautiful Mediterranean-style buildings in the state, he also envisioned their surroundings. “I should…hope to find the man who has the most beautiful estate in Florida, containing the most beautiful garden of trees, shrubs and flowers,” he explained. “I should like to get that man himself or his landscape architect to come and do likewise on our campus.”

The campus offered the ideal canvas for Holt’s vision, but over the years the vegetation grew to suggest an afterthought rather than a complementary setting for the architectural gems. In addition, the College intentionally turned its back to Lake Virginia, ignoring the lakefront—and the short-line railroad that ran along its shore through the campus. Even after 1969, when the “Dinky” tracks were removed, the College continued its orientation toward Park Avenue and downtown Winter Park. A concerted effort to clean up the lakefront and bring a sense of natural order to campus landscaping began during Rita Bornstein’s presidency, in conjunction with planning for the Cornell Campus Center. With the accompanying renovation of the Alfond Swimming Pool deck, the view of Lake Virginia was restored, and at last celebrated.

Led by master architect Carol Johnson of Carol R. Johnson Associates, whose clients include Agnes Scott College, Boston College, Duke University, and the Harvard Business School, and whose career has been recognized with the American Society of Landscape Architects’ highest honor, Rollins has experienced an outdoor renaissance. (At the same time, accessibility to the buildings has been improved.)

Johnson’s redesign has been a thoughtful, collaborative effort, implemented in partnership with College landscape and grounds manager Laura Coar, who came to Rollins in 2002 from a position as horticultural manager at Walt Disney World. Together, Johnson and Coar have introduced consistency to the campus landscaping, unwittingly echoing Holt’s description of his architectural ideal: “all in harmony and all parts of a unified whole.” Coar describes it as “the right plant in the right place.”

The renewal has continued in President Lewis Duncan’s administration. Two recent examples are the Ward Hall entry garden, filled with drought-tolerant vegetation that reduces the need for irrigation, and the corridor of color that leads the viewer from the white roses flanking the Veterans Memorial east of the Warren Administration Building to the white blossoms of the camellias, crape myrtles, and roses in the Chapel Garden. On the drawing board are plans for a French Avenue streetscape that will create attractive parking areas adjacent to Strong Hall and a renovation of the Elizabeth Hall entry, made possible by a grant from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation.

“I shall dare to hope that in five or 10 years no tourist can afford to motor through our state without visiting our campus,” said President Holt more than eight decades ago. Today, Rollins is well worth the trip and we invite you to enjoy a virtual visit to some of our favorite spots on the following pages.

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