Wildflower garden was only one of Julia Mackintosh's cultivations

CorrespondentNovember 3, 2013 

  • Julia Murray Mackintosh

    Born Nov. 29, 1924, in Cambridge, England

    FAMILY: After being raised outside New York City, she marries her husband of 60 years, Robert Mackintosh, and raises their three daughters on the Caribbean island of Grenada during the school year with summers in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.

    EDUCATION: Undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr College, masters degree in architecture from Harvard University.

    CAREER: In Grenada she founds Westmoreland School, teaching both there and at the Anglican High School, a girls’ secondary school. In 1975 she and her husband move to Aiken, S.C., and found Woodlanders Nursery, which they run for more than 20 years before “retiring” in Raleigh in 1997 as stewards of the Margaret Reid Wildflower Garden. Part of her volunteerism included teaching a wildflower course at NCSU’s Encore Program for Lifelong Enrichment.

    Dies Aug. 24

When Julia Mackintosh and husband Robert settled into retirement in 1975, they planned to enjoy life in the 80 acres they owned near Aiken, S.C.

They had founded founded Woodlanders Nursery there more than 20 years earlier, an enterprise internationally renowned for its focus on plants native to the Southeast. Before that she had taught children another 20 years on the island of Grenada. The couple was in their 70s, and they were ready to step back.

Perhaps that’s what they would have done, if it weren’t for a special piece of property located in Raleigh, near one of their three daughters. Instead, they bought the property, known as the Margaret Reid Wildflower Garden and became stewards of the land.

Robert Mackintosh, a landscape architect and nurseryman, focused on the technical aspects of the garden. Julia Mackintosh brought the public there, her daughter Amy said:

“Mum felt that all that effort should result in something that would benefit a larger cause.”

Julia Mackintosh was 88 when died in August, after years of battling multiple myeloma.

Margaret Reid had spent 50 years creating the garden on her property, located at 1439 Dixie Trail, rescuing native plants from encroaching strip malls and parking lots. Before her death in 1995, she granted a conservation easement to the Triangle Land Conservancy so the nearly one and a half acres of wildflowers and indigenous greenery, all planted in natural groupings, would remain protected. Local garden buffs believe there was no better couple to pick up where Reid left off.

Mackintosh taught Reid Garden visitors more than how to identify one of the 25 variety of birds she catalogued on the property, or how to tell toadshade from trout.

“I was a 50-year-old career changer with many ‘What was I thinking?’ moments when Julia became my informal teacher and mentor on Native Plant Society outings and Reid Garden workdays,” said Dale Batchelor, owner of the gardening design firm Garden by Nature. “Julia encouraged me through our final visit, when, although she was very ill, we spent most of the time discussing my final project for a native plant certification program.”

Teaching was intrinsic to her nature, friends and family said. The couple moved to Grenada after her husband fell in love with the long growing season during their honeymoon on a nearby island. But the established educational offerings were unacceptable and Julia Mackintosh took it upon herself to start a school, with some friends. She taught everything from her first love, biology, to French, math and music.

“We learned that learning was fun, communal, creative, wide-ranging, and interconnected,” Amy Mackintosh said. “I remember exploring the reefs below our house at low tides, and collecting huge colorful caterpillars on the frangipani trees for her lab classes when we should have been leaving for school.”

In North Carolina, her impact went beyond the Reid Garden, for she was a perennial volunteer.

She met Kimberly Smart, a natural sciences educator, while volunteering at the N.C. Museum of Natural History more than 10 years ago. They worked together creating teaching boxes that educators could borrow, designing and giving teacher workshops on wildflowers and invasive plants, and creating a garden of native plants at the museum’s Prairie Ridge Ecostation.

“Julia was able to distill the kernel from the chaff,” Smart said. “It’s rare for a person to have so many talents, but what stands out for me is how willing Julia was to share her gifts, how kind and supportive she was.”

Hers was a lifetime of adventures, including a New York City childhood in which she roller-skated to school. As a young adult she wrangled horses on a ranch in Arizona, gambled on a Navajo reservation and ran off with the circus for a weekend while in college. After graduation she spent a few years rebuilding hostels, bicycling throughout postwar Europe.

Her family marveled at her ability to keep in touch with old friends.

Eventually, Mackintosh began to scale back, though she continued with her passion of painting until the very end. This month, the Sertoma Arts Center in Raleigh is presenting a retrospective of her art, mostly landscapes.

Amy Mackintosh pointed to a quote by E.B. White: “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.”

The daughter concluded: “I’m not sure my mother felt this dilemma. She mostly found ways to combine both goals.”

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