The Sesqui Series: Laura Lander Brought ‘Green Thumb’ to Greenwood Campus
Story by Karen Petit
Editor’s Note: During the Sesquicentennial Celebration, Lander University will share news stories which highlight the people and events shaping its campus through “The Sesqui Series.”
With the abundance of trees and greenery on the modern Lander University campus, it’s difficult to imagine a time when an article in the South Carolina Natural History publication described the college’s site as beginning on “the furrows of an old cotton field and a lonely black gum tree on the line between the garden and the campus proper.”
The landscaping that gave the campus its beauty – and recognition as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation – is the result of the love and care given by Laura McPherson Lander, wife of the college’s founder, the Rev. Samuel Lander. The location of the Greenwood campus on a barren field was selected because of its proximity to churches and shopping in the growing town.
Although encouraged to seek the talents of a landscape architect, Mrs. Lander insisted that native trees and local shrubs “and some good taste of our own” could transform the campus. She worked diligently with her husband until his death, just two months before the opening of the new college in September 1904, on the planning and planting needed in Greenwood.
The Landers brought a number of plants and cuttings from the Williamston campus. Friends of the couple and the college contributed plants, too, including Boston ivy from a donor in Gray Court and English ivy brought from Mount Vernon in Virginia from a Silverstreet friend. Among the earliest saplings were four trees, native to China, as well as a Lowcountry oak tree. Students were encouraged to bring a small tree from their communities to plant – a practice that added to the diversity of the trees at Lander.
Perhaps the sweetest flowers to grace the campus were peonies. Mrs. Lander fell in love with the beautiful blooms when she was a student at Greensboro Female College in the 1850s. Years later, she obtained the roots of a flower, encouraged its growth and took the plant wherever the family moved. She brought the peonies to Greenwood, too, where they remained until an over-zealous gardener pruned them away after Mrs. Lander’s death. Fortunately, a friend hearing of the plant’s disastrous plight replaced the flower.
Students also contributed seeds, bulbs and plants to create the campus gardens. Dr. W.T. Lander planted small pine trees where a May Queen and her court gave a party in “The Pines.”
In 2014, a group of Lander students conducted a study of trees in the historic section of campus. There, they recorded 170 trees, of which 113 were of the deciduous variety and 57 were evergreens.
As Lander continues to grows, new trees and plants are added to enhance the beauty of the modern university. But as Kathleen Lander Willson remembered the words of a friend who said it was Mrs. Lander “whose artistic brain and hand began the transformation of this campus.”