Believe it or not, the best spot for trees in Greensboro is this historic cemetery

There are 700 different kinds of trees in Green Hill Cemetery, a historic graveyard in Greensboro, NC. (Photo via NC Department of Culture and Natural Resources)

By Ryan Pitkin

February 26, 2024

Green Hill Cemetery is a not-so-hidden gem tucked into Greensboro’s park system. It’s also home to 700 different types of trees.

Just north of downtown Greensboro, running along North Buffalo Creek, is a string of parks at which residents can enjoy any number of recreational activities, from hiking in the T. Gilbert Pearson Audubon Natural Area and serving shots at the Latham Park Tennis Center to shooting hoops at the Lake Daniel Park Basketball Court then taking a dip at the Friendly Park Swim and Tennis Club.

Located centrally amidst this wonderland of leisure is a public space that is arguably as beautiful and offers as wide a range of activities as any of the aforementioned parks: Green Hill Cemetery.

OK, we know — a cemetery is not what comes to mind when you think of either a relaxing or recreational afternoon in the city, but just take a look at the Green Hill website for a complete list of who might find the cemetery to be the perfect spot for a stop on their day off.

“Visit this lovely public acreage for: family healing, neighborhood walkers, lunchtime strollers genealogists, plein-air artists, bench sitters, book readers, practicing bagpipers, ​tree and shrub enthusiasts, birders, botanists, and anyone who enjoys picnicking in the welcoming Gathering Area,” the website reads.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Green Hill Cemetery

Established around 1877 (though the site was home to countless burials before then), Green Hill Cemetery is Greensboro’s oldest actively used public cemetery, with around 19,000 burial plots spread among its 51 acres between Battleground Avenue, Wharton Street, and Latham Park.

But there’s much more than burial plots at Green Hill. The location is a botanist’s dream, home to more than 700 different types of trees and a plethora of other plants and shrubs.

While the park itself is managed by the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department, a group of volunteers came together in 2009 to launch the Friends of Green Hill Cemetery, an organization that sees to the preservation of not only the cemetery itself but the legacy of its many stories.

The group offers historical tours and botanical tours, raising money for gravestone conservation and cemetery enhancements while encouraging respectful respite for all who visit.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Green Hill Cemetery

How to best explore Green Hill Cemetery

The Friends of Green Hill Cemetery (FGHC) hold walking tours of the property each spring and fall, with the spring tours taking place just after the leaves come in and the autumn events occurring before most of them drop.

These tours, which touch on the people who were buried in the cemetery as well as the surrounding flora, are cleverly titled The Plants and the Planted, referring to both the vegetative life that thrives within the cemetery’s walls and the human life that no longer does.

A couple of spring 2024 dates have already been scheduled, as FGHC plans to lead a tour of the older, southern half of Green Hill on May 11 from 10 a.m. to noon, then cover the northern, newer half on May 12 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Plants and the Planted Tours cost $5 with no reservation, so just show up. Organizers ask that attendees go to the southernmost gate on Wharton Street near Fisher Avenue for the May 11 tour or to the northernmost gate on Wharton Street near Cleveland Street for the May 12 tour. Similar tours are already booked for Oct. 26 (south) and Oct. 27 (north) this year, as well.

Among the figures buried at Green Hill Cemetery are O.C. Wysong, co-founder and president of Wysong & Miles at the time of his death in 1918. Having lived the final 18 years of his life in Greensboro, Wysong was seen as an innovator in the world of mechanics.

The manufacturer held 89 woodworking and metal-working machinery patents when he passed away at age 55 after a five-week battle with pneumonia, surprising many of his associates who did not know the serious nature of his condition.

Green Hill Cemetery is also home to a number of interesting monuments, including a 7-foot-tall marble fireman statue that depicts a firefighter holding the nozzle of a fire hose connected to a fire hydrant atop a 10-foot-tall granite base. The monument, restored in 2021, honors all Greensboro firefighters who have died in the line of duty over the years.

A monument that once marked the mass grave of about 300 unknown Confederate soldiers in the cemetery was removed in 2020 and placed in storage after activists toppled it during Fourth of July weekend.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Green Hill Cemetery

Other ways to visit Green Hill

If you’re searching for ideas for home landscaping, there is perhaps no better showroom than Green Hill Cemetery, which holds myriad mature examples of lesser-known woody ornamental plants all in one area.

FGHC offers Landscaping Walking Tours, which highlight several of Green Hill’s specimen trees and shrubs of ornamental horticultural value, particularly for the home landscape. Those dates have not yet been listed for 2024, though they will be announced on the cemetery’s Facebook page as they’re rolled out.

There are also virtual options for those unable to join one of the walking tours. FGHC has put together a wonderful PowerPoint presentation titled “The Plants and the Planted” that they will bring to any group within Guilford County for an indoor presentation not beholden to weather conditions. All your group needs is at least 10 people and an indoor room in which to hold the presentation on an HDMI-compatible TV or projector.

Of course, you can hold your own self-guided tour of the cemetery at any time, and not surprisingly, FGHC has put a lot of work into making that process easier and more informative.

A tree inventory project facilitated by FGHC and carried out by a professional botanist volunteer in partnership with the city’s GIS staff and cemetery staff allows visitors to map out each tree in the cemetery online, categorized by common name, species name, and family name.

Photo courtesy of Friends of Green Hill Cemetery

If you’re looking for a specific person in the cemetery rather than a plant, the city of Greensboro’s Burial Index can help with that, as well.

The organization has also carried out a rigorous labeling project for those who just want to wing it and see what they can find, affixing small signage on or near each plant and tree that identifies its botanical family, genus, species, common name, and native origins.

FGHC’s tour booklets are also available for $5 on weekdays at the City Cemetery office at 320 E. Friendly Ave.

All that said, the Friends of Green Hill Cemetery have left you no excuse for not getting out and seeing all that this Greensboro gem has to offer.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Author

  • Ryan Pitkin

    Ryan Pitkin is a writer and editor based in Charlotte, where he runs an alternative weekly newspaper called Queen City Nerve. He is also editor of NoDa News, a community newsletter in the neighborhood where he has lived for 15 years.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | NATURE

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