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Alumni and Friends

When Nature Calls, A Necessary Gift Comes Through

Carol McNeel portrait in garden

Walking around NC State’s JC Raulston Arboretum you see them everywhere: small plaques hidden among the plants and flowers. Benches dedicated to loved ones. Gardens bearing someone’s name. An engraved brick. A waterfall. All of these named items help sustain the 10.5-acre nationally acclaimed teaching and research garden. Thousands of visitors make the trek to the JC Raulston Arboretum to take in the more than 7,000 different types of plants on display from all around the world. And soon a new plaque will appear in a spot where most of those visitors end up at one point or another: the restroom.

Often mistaken for a small church, a shop or market, a quaint blue cottage containing the restroom facilities is cleverly hidden in the back corner of the Arboretum between the conifer collection and Elm Circle. Aptly named “The Necessary,” this building will receive a much-needed update thanks to the generosity of Carol McNeel.

McNeel, a philanthropist and expert gardener, has served as a board member at the Arboretum since 2020. She and her husband Rick believe in the healing powers of gardening and green spaces, a mission that aligns with the Arboretum’s goal to foster interest in diverse plants for bettering communities. When thinking about how best to support the Arboretum, this particular opportunity really tickled her fancy.

“I’m a quirky person, and everything I do is kind of eclectic,” laughs McNeel. “Once I found out that this little blue building was the restroom and needed a spruce, I knew it was for me.”

The Necessary at McNeel Corner, as it will be called, is a frequently visited spot and not just because of the facilities it houses. The building itself is gorgeous to look at and makes a fantastic backdrop for photoshoots, everything from engagement photos to family reunions, graduation and more.

A variety of plants at the arboretum
A variety of plants at the arboretum

Soon, renovations will be underway to expand the interior bathrooms and make them more sustainable. Structural repairs will be made to the roof shingles and the arbor that provides shade while visitors rest on the benches and wait their turn. A new water fountain with a bottle filling station will be installed under the pergola which may bring guests back for a second visit during their trip to the gardens. In addition, the southside garden will be replanted and the accessible entrance will be made more welcoming.

These tweaks are all in service to this gorgeous garden and its visitors to keep them comfortable as they stroll the grounds and take care of all the gotta-gos that naturally occur on an outing.

McNeel encourages visitors to take advantage of the 300 programs the Arboretum hosts each year, the plant sales and the popular Moonlight in the Garden exhibition in the fall, when the gardens are truly magical and meticulously lit up with lights. Visitors enjoy live music and yummy offerings from food trucks as they meander through the transformed paths.

“The Arboretum is so welcoming. Everyone there is so knowledgeable, down to earth and so much fun,” says McNeel. “I love wandering the whole place. It’s just beautiful and sometimes I look at their plant list and have no idea how they get it all in there. I’m thrilled to support them.”