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Silence in the garden

Posted: February 3, 2012 9:12 a.m.
Updated: February 6, 2012 5:00 a.m.

On Jan. 29, 2012, James R. Cothran, of Atlanta, died after a short illness. For many people, the garden is the perfection of man’s beauty on earth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South, where creating beautiful spaces is a time-honored tradition. James “Jim” Robert Cothran shared and exemplified this passion. This renowned landscape architect, horticulturalist, urban planner, garden historian, historic preservationist, author, educator, civic leader, businessman and mentor contributed significantly to preserving the beauty of the Southern landscape. A graduate of Clemson, with Master’s degrees from the UGA and Georgia Tech, Jim served 42 years as vice president of Atlanta’s highly-regarded design firm, Robert and Company, designing hundreds of projects, including the Zoo Atlanta, Olympic Master Plan Update for Stone Mountain Park, numerous park and streetscape plans, military bases, schools and other institutions. 

Because of his zeal to save historic landscapes, in 2002, he formed a coalition of preservationists to survey properties in Georgia. Realizing that South Carolina also could benefit from this project, he helped The Garden Club of South Carolina Inc. create the South Carolina Historic Landscape Initiative, serving as a major guiding influence. His recent stellar work in historic landscape preservation included plans for Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation, in Charleston. A popular and well-known author, his works include “Gardens of Historic Charleston;”republication of “Ladies’ Southern Florist” by Mary C. Rion; “Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South;” “Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs;” and more than 15 articles promoting everything from historic garden tiles (of which he has a treasured collection) to historic plants.

Early in his career, he developed a special bond with The Garden Club of South Carolina Inc. (GCSC) and The Garden Club of Georgia. While a student at Clemson, he was the inaugural recipient of The Garden Club of South Carolina’s scholarship and was considered a 54-year associate of GCSC. Jim loved donating his time for lectures with both garden clubs. He assisted GCSC in its restoration of the Memorial Garden in Columbia in 2006-2009. Also, he taught landscape design schools for the state garden clubs in Georgia and South Carolina. In 1990, Jim developed a Southern garden history course in the Heritage Preservation graduate program at Georgia State University. Later in 2002, he began teaching similar courses at the University of Georgia. He remained an adjunct professor and landscape design course instructor.

Jim worked with others to expand the Cherokee Garden Library and served in various leadership capacities. The Cherokee Garden Library became Jim’s haven for historic research and in 2007 he donated a large collection of material to the library. Today, the Cothran Collection serves as an invaluable research tool for visitors to the library.
Over the course of his 44 years as a professional and educator, Jim served as a mentor to hundreds of students, co-workers and peers who gravitated to Jim for expertise and willingness to expand the design and preservation profession with those who shared his love for gardens, landscape design, urban planning and horticulture.

During his career, he received various state and national awards. The American Society of Landscape Architects elected Jim as a Fellow in 2002 for his years of service to the profession. He was active in several organizations including the Southern Garden History Society, Alliance for Historic Landscape Architecture; Garden Conservancy; Trees Atlanta; Cherokee Garden Library; Hills and Dales Historic House and Garden in LaGrange, Ga.; Founder’s Memorial Garden in Athens, Ga.; ASLA; Georgia’s Historic House and Garden Pilgrimage; and Rotary Club. Over his career Jim received numerous awards including the 2007 Historic Preservation Award for The Garden Club of America; 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award for the University of Georgia; 2005 Award of Honor for The National Garden Clubs Inc.; 2005 Helen Kohn Henning Award of Excellence for Historic Columbia Foundation; 2004 Honor Award with American Society of Landscape Architects; 2004 President’s Award with ASLA; and 2004 Annual Literature Award for his contribution to the book “Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South” with the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, Inc.

Beyond the accolades, professional achievements, and books he wrote, Jim Cothran will be remembered for his wonderful personality, his infectious laughter and his passion for life.

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