Rare is the person who can walk by the Pratt Ginkgo in late fall without stopping to stare at branches full of gold coins, shining in the light. And if you’re fortunate enough to be in the right place when the cold snap hits, you’ll see the leaves drop in a sudden, shimmering, golden rain.
But fall isn’t the only magical season for the trees on Grounds. Any time of year, the foliage invites a glance upward, and we find ourselves awed by stately grandeur.
Season after season, the gnarled, low-hanging branches of the Yulan magnolia beckon passers-by to sit a spell, almost hidden, on the wooden bench tucked underneath. And the magnolia is especially breathtaking in spring. “Because it’s so huge, the south side blooms before the north side,” says UVA landscape architect Mary Hughes (Arch ’87). “So it’s really rare that you get the entire tree fully in bloom. … When it does happen, it is a really gorgeous sight.”
Historians might disagree whether Thomas Jefferson ever planned to have trees planted on the Lawn of his Academical Village. But to study beneath one of its majestic ash trees—among the oldest trees across Grounds—well, if that’s not on every student’s wish list, it should be.
Trees evoke mystery, nostalgia, even romance. Just ask Bethy Hagan (Col ’11). She and then-boyfriend Shawn Flaherty (Col ’08, Com ’09) often met up under the Yulan magnolia to spend a few moments together amid the bustle of college life. That one tree grew to mean even more to them both last fall.
Flaherty plotted with the Office of the Architect to secretly endow the tree in Hagan’s name. He then orchestrated a visit back to Grounds with Hagan and her siblings for UVA’s bicentennial launch in October. After surprising Hagan with the endowment certificate under the magnolia’s canopy, Flaherty got down on one knee and proposed. The rest of the family joined them in celebrating. The two were married in July.
“That tree will always be our first and last stop when we arrive back to Charlottesville,” Flaherty wrote in an email. “I am looking forward to bringing our kids and hopefully grandkids there one day and sharing the story. … To think, it all started underneath those beautiful branches.”
Whether you recall one particular tree or simply the fragrance and towering beauty of many, let these photos take you back in time. Some are trees you might also have overlooked: That’s always been there, and I didn’t see it. “They are right in front of you, hiding in plain sight,” says photographer Robert Llewellyn (Engr ’69) about the majestic trees of Grounds.
Llewellyn took all of the photos shown here, and he has a mission, he says: “To get humans to go from looking to seeing—to change the way you see the planet you’re on.”