For 100 years a 50-acre, bamboo-studded tract of U.S. Highway 17 outside of Savannah has been attracting plant enthusiasts, scientists and day-trippers to the southeast corner of Georgia. As it enters its second century, the land, recently renamed the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm, is poised to take on a new role — as a cultural and educational center for Georgia’s oldest city and the entire region. “Our goal is to build the premier garden on the I-95 corridor between those located in Miami, Fla. and Richmond, Va.,” said Norman Winter, who took over as director of the gardens this fall. “We want a place where people can come out and walk through an incredibly beautiful picture of nature while getting inspired about their home landscape.” “The garden will truly become a place to escape the every-day stresses of life, whether it is by watching the flight of the hummingbird or butterfly feasting on nectar rich flowers or sitting on a great lawn and listening to a jazz concert. “UGA Extension has operated the garden as a research station and public outreach center since 1983. In the last few years, a dedicated and vocal group of local supporters have worked to help the garden expand the learning and civic opportunities located there. There are plans and funding to build a new formal garden, a model of the original Trustees Garden in downtown Savannah, a grand lawn and band shell and — as a centerpiece — a new 5,000 square foot visitor education center. The garden’s staff and supporters broke ground on the Andrews Visitor and Education Center on Nov. 24, and plan to have the building done in November or December, 2014. “Today we’re opening a new chapter in our mission to provide education, public outreach and applied research in horticultural and environmental sciences,” said Alan Beals, president of Friends of the Coastal Gardens, at the recent ground breaking. “The impact of this center in fulfilling this mission will be considerable. In the foremost, the center will provide new educational opportunities for people throughout this community and throughout the region … We can expect these gardens to achieve the status of a premiere destination.” The center funded by Savannah couple Jim and Barbara Andrews will include a large community room, a gift shop, a large terrace leading to the formal garden and a media room for documentary screenings. The new education and visitors’ center will increase the number of events the garden will be able to host and help draw new visitors to the museum. While the gardens are going through their metamorphosis over the next few years, their facilities will still be open to the public for summer camps, regular gardening workshops, educational tours and special events. Along with new buildings and plantings, the garden will also see an increase in funding for maintenance and operations from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which administers UGA Extension programs across the state. Horticultural landmarks at the gardens — including the Judge Arthur Solomon Camellia Trail, the water garden, the Dwarf Palmetto and Palm Collections, the rose and cottage gardens, the orchid and bearded iris collections and the bamboo stands — will still be open. To find out more about the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm or how to help the facility into its next chapter, visit their website http://www.coastalgeorgiabg.org.