Botanical Gardens

Cape fear botanical garden

Adriana Quiñones hated flowers as a child. Now she loves making the Cape Fear Botanical Garden bloom.
Paul Woolverton Staff writer @FO_Woolverton

Adriana Quiñones, the woman in charge of making flowers bloom year-round at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, wanted nothing to do with flowers when she was a child.

It’s because her mother took up breeding daffodils when Quiñones was young.

“She loved daffodils, everything about daffodils, ” Quiñones said. The family’s yard was filled with the flowers, and springtimes were consumed with daffodil season.

“Well, it just so happens my birthday is in April, which is the height of daffodil season in Ohio. So multiple times, my mom forgot my birthday, ” Quiñones said.

“I never had a Sweet 16 or anything like that, ” she said. “Totally forgotten in the midst of daffodil seasons. I grew up hating anything to do with flowers. Hating it.”

But now Quiñones, who is 51, not only loves plants and flowers, she studied their genetics in graduate school, where she discovered three genes that cause a tree to produce flowers. She has covered much of her body with tattoos of flowers.

Since April 2014 Quiñones has been the director of horticulture at the Botanical Garden and the garden’s interim executive director since September.

As the horticulture director, Quiñones decides what kind of plants populate the garden, which since its founding in 1989 on Cross Creek at the Cape Fear River has become a prime attraction in Fayetteville.

This past fall, for example, Quiñones had 16, 000 tulips planted. Their blooms filled much of the property in April, to the delight of visitors.

Quiñones went through her 20s as a hairstylist, a wife, and the mother of three children.

She said she didn’t turn toward flora until she was 30.

She was living in the country, felt “bored to death” and wanted something to do. She volunteered at the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, to help them make Christmas wreaths.

The plant propagator invited Quiñones to help him propagate trees, she said.

“And it was trees that actually did it for me, ” she said. “The permanence of them. The stateliness of them. They last hundreds and hundreds of years. And not like a daylily or a daffodil that’s here one day and gone the next. And that’s what I fell in love with.”

The volunteer work led Quiñones to get a bachelor degree in agriculture (with a focus on horticulture) in 2002. She celebrated her graduation with her first tattoo. Near the top of her back, it depicts the white-and-yellow flowers of a stewartia tree, her favorite.

Quiñones later got a master’s of science degree in horticulture and eventually ended up with an office job making educational programs for a national horticulture association. But she didn’t enjoy it.

She realized she needed a new job when she saw landscapers working on the grounds outside her window and she wished she were working with them.

And that brought Quiñones to Fayetteville in 2014, when the Cape Fear Botanical Garden hired her to be its horticulture director.

Quiñones revels in the property, excited to talk with visitors about the trees, flowers and wildlife on its 80 acres. She touches the flowers as she talks about them and even pets the bees sipping their nectar.

“This is a place people can come and enjoy nature on so many levels, ” Quiñones said.

“If they just need a peaceful place to walk, this place is a place to come, ” she said. “If they want to learn about plants, this is a place to come. If they want to know, ‘What grows best in my yard?’ this is the place to come. If they want to bring their children to learn stuff, this is the place to come.”