Written by Jan Smiley Todd, Boone, N.C.
Arborcrest Gardens was established in 1989 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit botanical garden, set up for horticultural research within a western North Carolina mountain community. We began with a small vegetable garden and a landscaped ornamental garden covering about 5 acres, then gradually expanded to 26 acres.
About the Stanleys
Arborcrest Gardens is located on 26 acres surrounding the home of Dr. Ronald and Cheryl Stanley. The Stanley family moved to Boone in 1976 when Dr. Stanley opened Boone Dermatology Clinic, where he still treats patients along with 9 other board-certified providers.
Ron Stanley's father, tending tomatoes in 1968.
Outside his profession, Dr. Stanley has a life-long love of gardening. He grew up in Talley’s Crossing, near Kernersville, N.C. — where “everyone had a garden,” he said. His grandparents, aunts and uncles all lived close to one another, and everyone grew their own vegetables for the dinner table.
According to Dr. Stanley, his father worked hard in the yard and had the "neatest lawn in Forsyth County." He added, "Dad grew the best tomatoes and strawberries. He did it right."
When Dr. Stanley was just six years old, his grandmother offered him a little spot in her garden, where he planted green peas, carrots and radishes. “Radishes were great for a little kid because they grow so fast — ready to harvest in just 30 days,” he said. “It was a miracle to me.”
Dr. Stanley continued to garden until he graduated from high school, but took a break from his hobby while he attended Duke University and then medical school at the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.
Ron Stanley, as a senior in high school in 1964, pictured with his grandmother (left) and his prized pumpkins.
While a student at Duke, Ron's summers were spent working at RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem. There he met Cheryl, a student at UNC-Greensboro. They married in 1969, after Cheryl graduated and while Dr. Stanley was in his first year of medical school. They have 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
In 1976, the Stanleys moved to Boone, and a few years later purchased a 5-acre tract from James Councill, located at the base of Howard's Knob.
The Stanleys built their home in 1979 and began gardening and landscaping the grounds surrounding their home.
In 1985, when the remainder of Mr. Councill’s property was auctioned, the Stanleys purchased additional tracts, expanding their property to 50 acres.
Development of Arborcrest Gardens
As Dr. Stanley experimented with various plants in his vegetable garden and ornamental beds, he read gardening books, consulted with local nurseries — and learned about horticulture through his own research and “trial and error.”
One book Dr. Stanley found most helpful was “Crockett’s Victory Garden,” by James Underwood Crockett — the first host on the PBS show, “The Victory Garden,” produced by WGBH in Boston.
In fact, in 1984, the Stanleys’ vegetable garden was featured on the television show, after Dr. Stanley submitted pictures of the garden for a contest. Their garden was chosen as one of six featured nationwide on the show.
During the early days of his landscape and vegetable gardening in Boone, the doctor kept meticulous records of his methods and of the performance of the plants — building a valuable database for local landscape design.
Part of Dr. Stanley’s duty as a physician is educating his patients — a role he finds both essential and rewarding. As he gained gardening expertise during his free time, Dr. Stanley discovered a desire to share that knowledge and information as well.
The neat layout, raised beds with walkways, and integration of flowers caught the eye of the judges when the Stanley's vegetable garden was featured on the PBS show, "Victory Garden," in 1984.
In 1989, Dr. Stanley took the first step toward sharing his gardening resources with others by setting up Arborcrest Gardens as a non-profit botanical garden. He continued experimenting with different varieties of plants and trees, recording his findings over time.
As he expanded his gardens and database, he began to share his knowledge and recommendations with other gardeners.
Over the years, Dr. Stanley has hired a staff to help him maintain the landscaping and managed various projects around the property, although he did much of the clearing and planting himself. In 2009, he decided to build a trail.
One trail led to another . . . and another.
The doctor and his staff cleared about 20 acres of land, installed and later paved 2.5 miles of trails, built bridges, and cultivated plant beds. A deer fence was built around the boundary of the gardens to protect plants from hungry wildlife.
Dr. Stanley designs each area, choosing and marking the location for every individual plant. “I love designing, creating,” he said. He estimates he has chosen, purchased and planted or staked off over half a million plants since expanding Arborcrest to its current size.
While he has visited botanical gardens all over the country, Dr. Stanley said his main inspiration was Walt Disney World. “When we visited there, I noticed their landscape designs. The plants were in big sweeps, overlapping, curving and meandering around,” he said.
Dr. Stanley said he sketched some of the designs to use as a springboard for ideas once he returned home. “I knew I couldn’t use the same plants, of course, because they wouldn’t grow in the mountains, but I wanted to create gardens that were as neat and perfect as those at Walt Disney World,” he said.
A cascade of flowers spills down the slope in the springtime.
Arborcrest differs from most other botanical gardens in that it has been conceptualized, designed, funded and managed by one person. Currently, Dr. Stanley spends about 40 – 60 hours a week working in the gardens and managing projects for his staff.
Clearing, planting and refining has been an ongoing process. While open to the public by appointment for many years since its inception, Arborcrest Gardens began welcoming visitors on a regular schedule in 2019, open on Fridays by reservation.
Arborcrest's unusual typography and mountainous terrain required many innovative techniques to successfully plant its thousands of trees and shrubs.
The expansion of the gardens to 26 acres began in 2009, and continues to evolve each year.