It’s only a short drive north up I-85 to reach the Peachoid, Gaffney and the “peach capital of SC,” so it’s no surprise that the land that is now Milliken Arboretum was once a peach orchard. What is can be surprising to first-time visitors is that Milliken today is one of the largest corporate greenspaces in the Southeast, and a nationally recognized arboretum to boot.
The Roger Milliken Center (RMC) campus sits on 600 acres of beautifully manicured spaces, with open fields, groves of trees, fountains and ponds scattered throughout. According to the RMC website it was Mr. Milliken who inspired the design of the property, and today over 500 species of trees and shrubs adorn the grounds.
In 1989, Milliken began a partnership with J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., a plant nursery in Boring, Oregon. In return for tree seedlings, many of which are rare to the region, Milliken keeps records on their growth rates, fall color and flower performance for the nursery. The partnership is still ‘growing’ strong today.
The Milliken arboretum is one of five nationally recognized greenspaces in Spartanburg, which also include the Roger Milliken Arboretum at Wofford College, Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve, and the University of South Carolina Upstate & Spartanburg Community College campuses. Roger Milliken also founded the Noble Tree Foundation (with the goal to beautify Spartanburg), and used a Lacebark elm silhouette for the organization’s logo; a 75-year-old Lacebark elm is likely the oldest tree on the property.
The Arboretum is open to the public, and not only do Milliken employees utilize the trails for exercise during their lunch break, but Spartanburg residents come here to walk their dogs, families to host picnics, and the students from Spartanburg Community College’s horticulture program to study.
The first trees to flower (or the last, as the blossoms begin appearing in late December) are the flowering apricots, and spring brings a profusion of color as the crab apples, cherries and other fruit trees bloom. Summer sees the collection of magnolias from all over the world display their beauty, while autumn brings its own spectacular show of color. Even winter visits have their advantage, as the pecan grove drops its feast for the boys to snack on while playing football under the bare branches.
Among the familiar trees such as water oak and tulip poplar are less familiar ones: Trident maple, Japanese cedar, Chinese pistachio, Princeton American elm and Shawnee Brave baldcypress, the cypress knees seemingly growing out of the grass during our January visit (winter is relatively dry here in the southeast in recent years). I’m told the collection includes trees that were gifts from the DuPonts and Rockafellers, and even with my degree in forestry I was left examining more than one tree as to species, amazed at the variety seemingly flourishing in the red clay and blistering summers of South Carolina.
The arboretum is easy to reach, and despite the main access road being marked as a ‘private drive,’ public parking is available in the principal lot. Make sure to download the free Roger Milliken Center Experience iPhone App, which includes a self-guided tour of the Arboretum, a map of the campus, driving directions and more.