‘Georgia Champions of Landscape Gardening’ Symposium featured guests shared expertise and current gardening passions

MUBG’s 2018 Friends event

“Georgia Champions of Landscape Gardening”, MUBG’s 2018 Friends event, included an afternoon book signing, symposium and ice cream social. Pictured here, from left to right, sharing a joke as the symposium kicked off, are Pete Millier, director of Mizzou Botanic Garden; Vince Dooley, legendary former head football coach for the UGA Bulldogs who also has gained renown for his spectacular garden; Natalia Hamill, a brand and business development manager for Bailey Nurseries who attended both MU and UGA; Allan Armitage, a UGA professor emeritus known internationally for his work with annual and perennial landscape plants; and Michael Dirr , a University of Georgia (UGA) professor emeritus and a legend in the world of horticulture for his work with woody landscape plants.


Mizzou Botanic Garden’s (MUBG) “Georgia Champions of Landscape Gardening” event, held Sunday, Sept. 23, included a plant walk and an afternoon symposium and ice cream social with featured guests from the Peach State: Michael Dirr, Allan Armitage, Vince Dooley and Natalia Hamill. Books by MUBG’s guests were available for purchase and were signed by their authors. Attendees were treated to MU’s Tiger Stripe ice cream after the symposium.


Michael Dirr

Michael Dirr

Michael Dirr
University of Georgia (UGA) professor emeritus and woody landscape plant expert

Tree expert Dirr presented on oak trees as an introduction to MUBG’s initiative and film about the replacement of the in-decline pin oaks on the Franicis Quadrangle.

“I love my wife. I love my children. I used to love my dogs but they went to doggie heaven. And I love oaks,” he said before a general discussion of the various oak species. Dirr profiled the limitations of the pin oaks planted many years ago on the Quad and the advantages of the trees from the white oak family that will replace them.

“There are 500 oak species. I’ve spent my life embracing noble trees. When you plant for the future, you plant for nobility. Plant oaks.”

Current Passions: Dirr, author of the venerable reference work, “Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs”, has a new book in production with co-author Keith Warren. “The Tree Book: Superior Selection for Landscapes, Streetscapes and Gardens” is due out in May 2019.

“With 2,750 photographs, it details why trees are important, the origin and development of tree species and propagation,” Dirr said, emphasizing the fact that its authors’ combined expertise about what grows in different areas of the country make the book a “national” tree book.

“I think it will be a classic with information that is nowhere else — from two minds and two life experiences. It’s a case where the whole is better than the sum of the parts. There are a lot of photos of the same tree but from different sites along with information about flowers, fruits, seeds and cones as well as range and adaptability,” he said.


Allan Armitage

Allan Armitage

Allan Armitage
UGA professor emeritus and expert in annual and perennial landscape plants

“Everything is getting smaller — plants and gardens. People are living smaller more compact lifestyles. I myself have a tiny garden at my new house,” Armitage said.

“There is a move toward planting nativars and also a trend toward plants as solutions, or solution breeding, such as breeding to attract pollinators,” he added.

Armitage went on to emphasize the importance of new ways of obtaining and sharing information. “We need to get on people’s phones to attract new audiences. And when we talk about plants, we should use the lost art of storytelling.”

Current Passions: Armitage is working on the fourth edition of his big perennial book, “Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on Their Identification, Culture and Garden Attributes”, or as he refers to it, the “bible of perennials,” adding that he feels it is his legacy publication.

“Everybody has a phone,” he said. “I am working on an app — Armitage’s Great Garden Plants — for everybody who touches plants. It’s a way to pull different people in.

“Very few gardening apps are in-depth enough. I have designed this app for my daughters who want to know everything there is to know about plants but who are never going to buy a book. There are lots of photos and extras like deer and rabbit browsing ratings. Subdivisions include plant characteristics and there are videos and hints for success, along with my top choices.”


Natalia Hamill

Natalia Hamill

Natalia Hamill
Brand and business development manager for Bailey Nurseries

“There is real trend toward growing native plants, Hamill said.

More young people are gardening,” she added. “They want to care for something living, they want to take responsibility for something and they want plants in their lives.

“I see a great trend toward generational gardening,” she added.

A Current Passion: Hamill discussed Bailey’s work with Abelia cultivars, one of the firm’s current focus areas.

Abelias are an old-fashioned favorite with a new spark of life because of the introduction of more compact selections, deer resistance and abundant blooms that are attractive to butterflies.

She emphasized the importance of Bailey’s program of propagation and production in-ground, in the field. “All of our introductions must grow through two winters,” she said.


Vince Dooley

Vince Dooley

Vince Dooley
Legendary former head football coach for the UGA Bulldogs who has gained renown for his spectacular garden

Dooley holds himself up as a perfect example of someone who came to gardening with no background but who has experienced success and satisfaction. “Gardening gives me purpose,” he said.

He closed the session by telling the audience, “I love plants, especially the ones I don’t have. I got bit by the gardening bug and there’s no cure.”

Current Passions: In addition to a recently published book on the Civil War, he is revising the books he’s written on football, and “Vince Dooley: A Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach.” He also is busy filling a big new gardening space.

“When I ran out of space in my own yard, I borrowed an acre from a neighbor and then her whole property came up for sale,” he said.

A great fan of “weeping” plants, he will use the new space to add to his collection.

“There’s a brand new weeping crabapple called ‘Purple Tears’ and I have a new weeping pine and a weeping cedar for the new property.

“Gardening is good for the mind; it’s good for the body; and it’s good for the soul,” he said.

ice cream

Those attending the MUBG’s “Georgia Champions of Landscape Gardening” event were treated to Tiger Stripe ice cream at the close of the afternoon symposium.

Officially designated the Mizzou Botanic Garden in 1999, the University of Missouri campus in Columbia charges no admittance fees to its very public 735-acre garden, instead relying on gifts and memberships in the Friends of MUBG for support.

Alumni, friends and organizations wishing to support the Mizzou Botanic Garden's mission and growth or to become members of the Friends group may contact the garden at (573) 882-4240 or e-mail gardens@missouri.edu

Story by Jan Wiese-Fales • Photos by Robert Weaver