Seventy years ago, the place known today as Boxerwood was simply an open farm field. What flourishes today (or a version thereof) came into being from the heart and hands of one man, Dr. Robert S. Munger, MD (1911-1988). After building his family’s new Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home here in the 1950’s, Dr. Munger began landscaping.
Over the decades, Dr. Munger’s landscaping hobby blossomed into a passion for collecting rare and unusual trees and shrubs from around the world. In over 30 years of collecting, Dr. Munger estimated that he had planted somewhere between 12,000 – 13,000 trees and shrubs. He suggested that he had probably lost about half those to “wrong tree-wrong place” disease, infestation, short life expectancy, among other reasons. Many of the specimens that survived can still be found in the Garden today alongside their native plant neighbors.
These are the beginnings of Boxerwood, first a family home where three children were raised, thriving in a rich and beautiful landscape, and then continuing as a center for learning and stewardship. After purchasing the Garden in 1999, the non-profit Boxerwood Education Association (BEA) opened the gardens to the public for recreation and learning, with a goal of encouraging in all of us a closer relationship to nature and its care.
The gardens today still feature many varieties of dogwood, magnolia, rhododendron, azalea, and Japanese maples, as well as more uncommon trees and plants. The fields, woodlands, and ponds with their flourishing flora have, in turn, created habitat for many forms of wildlife, including children—many of whose parents (or grandparents) Dr. Munger himself delivered. More than fifty species of birds call Boxerwood home, as do many species of pollinators, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The children and their families, meanwhile, also run wild, enjoying this special place.
BEA continues to manage the woodland garden with a commitment to environmental stewardship. Community partners, volunteers, and donors help us care for the land, with the needs of our watershed and wildlife in mind. Stewardship projects include demonstration rain gardens and bio-swales, pollinator gardens, a native plant sanctuary, water conservation practices, and NEWTS (Nature-Emulating Wastewater Treatment System), with always more to come.
As a Center for Environmental Education Excellence, Boxerwood continues to welcome visitors near and far in support of its mission to encourage earth stewardship. Its award-wining education programs now bring more than 2,800 preK – HS students into the field each year in partnership with three local school systems. Half of these students participate in additional conservation action projects throughout the community, thus amplifying the work of BEA. From the vision of one man planting for beauty almost seventy years ago, that’s quite a lot of fruit indeed.
Dr. Robert S. Munger and his wife, Betty, purchased 21 acres on Ross Road; construction on their new home began the following year. They soon moved in with their three children and a slew of boxer dogs, which inspired family friends to dub the property “Boxerwood.”
Munger, still a full-time physician, became intensely interested in horticulture. Over the ensuing years he acquired thousands of exotic trees and shrubs, most only a few inches high, from around the world and spent every spare moment personally planting and tending them.
A survey of the fifteen-acre garden after his death revealed more than 7,000 trees attributable to him and more than 2,500 were labeled cultivars.
Boxerwood Education Association founders Karen “KB” Bailey and Hunter Mohring purchased a small parcel of the Munger estate; the Munger family later contributed 10.35 additional acres to the BEA.
The gardens were opened to the public.
Boxerwood Education Association attained status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Over the years, Boxerwood developed its environmental education programs that are recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a Center for Environmental Education Excellence and has provided hands-on, project-based learning to thousands of Rockbridge County preK-12 students. It also developed a reputation for providing popular community cultural events, and a place for nature lovers of all ages to enjoy.
Boxerwood secured a preservation and open-space easement. The easement was donated to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources to protect the property in perpetuity.
Boxerwood is many things: a record of one man’s vision of beauty; a trove of unusual and rare trees and shrubs; a community resource; a learning laboratory; and a place for all to wander, meditate, play, and experience nature.