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Roanoke Island Festival Park named Business Garden of the Season

By Christine Dorsey

If you ever question the beauty of Roanoke Island, and I can’t imagine why you would, take a walk around Festival Park in Manteo, Roanoke Island Garden Club’s Business Garden of the Season for winter 2019. Even when most gardens slumber in the chill of February, Festival Park blooms with berries and blossoms and verdant shades of green.

A tour with executive director of the park Kimberly Sawyer and groundskeeper Otis Sykes is a special treat. Sykes, a self-taught gardener and plant lover, came to the park over twenty years ago from The Elizabethan Gardens. He can tell you the name of most, if not all, of the vegetation on the grounds, along with when it was planted and who, if anyone, donated it.

Festival Park is about twenty-five acres surrounded by the Roanoke Sound, reached by driving, pedaling or walking across the Cora Mae Basnight Bridge. Once on the island, you feel as if you are in a natural wonderland. Sawyer refers to Festival Park as Manteo’s “Central Park.” There are American holly, heavy with red berries, and pyracantha, equally festooned with orange berries. A water area, kept natural, with weeping willows and umbrella plants, with irises in three colors (we have to wait till spring to see them in bloom) settles around a walking bridge.

Sweet bay trees and yew plants and soft pink flowered camellias line the boardwalk. Roses clinging to their late blooms await their winter trim. Not in bloom now, but with their vegetation adding multiple shades of green, are azaleas and oleander. Continue on the path and there are tall sasanqua or yuletide camellias with red petals and joyous yellow centers. Guarding the entranceway to the pavilion grounds is a burgundy loropetalum covered with tiny purple flowers. Inside the gate, besides the breathtaking views of the sound, are fatsia japonica with their white pom pom style blooms, magnolias and a bed of what seems like hundreds of daffodil sprouts peeking through mulch. Leading down to the sound is a tall hedge of Russian olive that smells heavenly in the fall. The grassy area is dotted with oaks, both live and deciduous, maples with small bundles of mistletoe nestled in a branch or two, loblolly pines and bald cypress.

The island is so vast, the plants so varied and beautiful, it’s hard to do it justice in an article.  So do yourself a favor and take a walk or ride to Festival Park, a “jewel” of Roanoke Island.

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