Robert S. Munger, M.D. almost single-handedly created and developed Boxerwood. He believed in giving plants a good start in life and setting them free to develop, mature, age, die and decay with little human intervention. In 1952, Dr. Munger and his wife, Elizabeth Evans Munger, built their home in the slightly overgrown pasture that became Boxerwood and raised three children there. At first, to provide shade for their home, Dr. Munger began to landscape; at this point, he was simply a collector. His interest rested mainly in Dwarf Conifers, Dogwoods, Rhododendrons and Azaleas, Magnolias and Japanese Maples, but many others plants caught his interest.
In 1977, Dr. Munger retired as a General Practitioner to become his own full-time gardener. Beginning in 1984, he had help from Karen "KB" Bailey. 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. His passion for his garden grew until his death in 1988. Shortly after Dr. Munger's death, an inventory revealed over 7,000 trees and shrubs attributable to him. Some 2,500 were labeled cultivars. Today, Boxerwood has over 7,000 trees and shrubs (including just over 1,300 cultivars of Dr. Munger's), but nature has done much of the planting.
In 1996, Hunter Mohring and KB bought a portion of the land and began exploring ways to save the garden and develop its full potential for the surrounding community. The gardens opened to the public in April 1997. The next year, an Oberlin student majoring in environmental education created an elementary science curriculum that was aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning. Shortly thereafter, the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council received an environmental education grant and Mollie Messimer settled on Boxerwood as the site for implementing it. In the spring of 1999, Mollie began the Education Program with students from Central Elementary School and volunteer instructors from W&L and the community. The nonprofit Boxerwood Education Association was formed in 2000 with Hunter as Executive Steward; KB, Garden Steward; and Mollie, Education Steward.
Just as the garden changes, so does Boxerwood. The education program now reaches all Rockbridge area elementary and middle schools. Area children love our innovative Play Trail (with KB as architect); the community enjoys our seasonal special events; a dedicated team of staff and volunteers continues to care for the garden.
The current staff members are: Bruce Bytnar, Managing Director; Elise Sheffield, Education Director; Jess Sullivan, Early Education & Family Programs Coordinator, Hannah, Klein, Program Educator; Faith Vosburgh, Horticulturalist; Ben Eland, Gardener; and Sally Grunewald, Communications Director. Previous staff member, Bonnie Bernstein gave her talents to creating the Early Education Program and now serves as a consultant.
Pictured (clockwise): Dr. Munger 1980, (photo courtesy of Ted Orlan); Karen "KB" Bailey; Mollie Messimer; Hunter Mohring