Carol Angle: the collector

(Read original article by Cathy Clary at

Carol Angle has gardened her way from Nebraska to Virginia. She’s always found an appeal in supporting “the threatened natives,” influenced by her daughter who gardened with natives in Minneapolis. After her “little plot” in Omaha where she “was on a first name acquaintance with every weed,” Angle’s move to Charlottesville in 1999 furnished a larger canvas, 20 acres in a small subdivision west of town.

“Fortunately, Cole Burrell came into my life and introduced me to the wide world of Virginia natives,” she said.

Everyone in the native plant community knows and refers fondly to horticultural designer and author Colston Burrell, whose gardens in Free Union, which feature collections of European hellebores and extensive native plantings, are renowned. Burrell designed a native grass slope behind Angle’s house and streamside plantings below. Now he brings students to see the wide variety of species on her land.

Angle allows non-Virginia natives like camassia and yuccas, “admitted under my personal Lewis and Clark clause,” as well as Japanese Snowbell and doublefile viburnum. Burrell, another Midwest transplant, teases her about plants that don’t belong. “Cole’s a tough censor. He’ll tell me it shouldn’t be here,” Angle said. “I guess I admire the ones that take over.”

But you can tell she has a collector’s heart. There’s a bit of garlic mustard and autumn olive in the woods, but they haven’t had their spring weeding yet and the beds are well-tended. Up above, the traffic on Garth Road rushes by, but there’s a habitat down here that could otherwise be a dumping ground for acres of suburban lawn. Instead, there’s a young planting of sourwoods and a stand of paw-paws in a bog by the stream. We pass a patch of geese feathers where they think a bear came through. A grove of wild cherry scents the air. Last summer, the mowed path from the house through the meadow thrummed with birds and insects.

We all pick away at what obscures our vision. And we all have our prejudices. I’ve discovered some of my own visiting these landscapes, but there is something intensely personal about what we accept or reject.

A final revelation: As I was leaving Willis’ woodland, the accommodator of periwinkle confessed, “I hate the mimosa....It’s the only thing I had cut down when I came here. They’re too bosomy, like wild-west floozies. I can see them dancing on the bar.” Willis still pulls seedlings after 25 years and indeed there are no mimosas among her periwinkle and honeysuckle.

As we parted ways, she turned back towards the native honeysuckle we’d just left behind. “I gotta go weed,” she said.

Nebraska native Carol Angle examines a woodland wildflower from her Albemarle garden . (Photo by Andrea Hubbell)