New landscape designer offers a fresh perspective on the campus garden

Zach Ignotz


Working with plants was not in MU Landscape Services’/Mizzou Botanic Garden’s new landscape designer Zach Ignotz’s long range life plan. But the welcome tranquility he experienced as he cared for a few potted plants while in the Marine Corps—after the daily “high intensity work environment” of an infantryman—created a detour.


Ignotz grew up 11 miles out of town from Troy, Mo., in a trailer park “surrounded by trees and with a creek nearby” where he and two brothers roamed freely in nature.


“In high school, I had more interest in animals and people. I took zoology, human anatomy and psychology,” Ignotz said. “I always liked plants, but they were never in the forefront.


“I joined the military right out of high school,” he said. “It was a good experience and I’m glad I did it, but it wasn’t a good fit in the long term. But taking care of those plants—there was something there. It decided I would study plants.”


Changing courses

Upon his arrival at Mizzou in 2016, in his quest to explore plant sciences, Ignotz crossed paths with Mary Ann Gowdy, a teaching assistant professor in Plant Science & Technology who he said greatly influenced him as she guided him through his studies as his academic advisor.


“As a first semester sophomore, I took a landscape design class with Plant Science Instructor Tim Moloney and decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Ignotz said. “After that, I took every landscape design class possible and the minimum of everything else.”


Ignotz’s capstone project was a redesign for one of MUBG’s Points of Interest, the Woodland Floral Garden. This u-shaped garden is tucked away on the east side of the Agriculture Building. Dedicated as a much larger space on April 18, 1980, it is one of the oldest specialty gardens on campus


“I had to present my design to a panel that included MUBG Director Pete Millier and Dr. Gowdy. After a year they called me back for a rededication of that space,” Ignotz said. But fate intervened. The garden’s rededication as the Missouri Native Woodland Garden remains on hold, cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic.


Ignotz graduated in 2020 with a degree in Plant Science. He landed a job with Frisella Nursery in St. Louis and put his plant knowledge to work.


“They told me, ‘Welcome Aboard. It’s the busy season so this will seem a lot like drinking out of a fire hose.’ It was a lot at once and I learned a lot, but I really enjoyed the experience,” he said.


After a year working in residential design, Ignotz saw a posting for the MU landscape designer position online, with Millier’s name as a contact. He applied and got an interview but when he came to campus, he couldn’t find Millier’s office after numerous inquiries in various offices.


“Dr. Gowdy knew,” he said of his decision to ask someone who had always pointed him in the right direction.


A return to MU

Ignotz was hired and started work on Oct. 25 of last year.


“Compared to retail, this job has a really different pace,” Ignotz said of his transition into his new job. “We work far ahead as part of a larger organization.


“What appealed to me most about this job is that it’s a 1,500-acre campus garden. Anything that goes on outside a building, we work on it,” he said. “In a broad sense, I am looking forward to updating this garden—making it look more like a botanic garden with more information about the plants.”


“When I started, a lot of the projects for the year had been planned by Pete, Joan [Smith, his predecessor] and Jenna [Connors, senior horticulturist], so it’s been a lot of investigative work.


“I did get to design a pocket in the Missouri Native Woodland Garden for a bench dedication. It was my first real design project, which was pretty cool,” Ignotz said. “There is a lot to consider from an aesthetic design perspective, reality of the site, because a lot of people have a vested interest in how it looks and because it was all native plants.”


MUBG’s long term project involving replacement of pin oaks on the Francis Quadrangle with the Legacy Oaks on MU’s Francis Quadrangle, dominated weekly design reviews. That project, now underway, has been described as the most important ever undertaken by MUBG by Director Millier and Ignotz was able to play a key role in revamping the placement of the white oak species being used.


“There’s a lot to consider,” Ignotz said of the project. “There are utilities, codes and the safety considerations during the removal process with all of the activities on the quad. Trying to make it all match was difficult.”


Millier has tasked Ignotz with reviewing MUBG’s three Tree Trails—what’s there, what isn’t and what needs replacement or relabeling. He said he has enjoyed getting acquainted with the trails and is looking forward to getting them in order.


“The best thing about having Zach as our new designer is that he brings a fresh set of eyes to what we do here,” Millier said.


“The Tree Trails are an incredibly good thing,” Ignotz said. “I feel like there is a lack of appreciation for this campus’ outdoor spaces and for the botanic garden. There are health care professionals that are prescribing more time spent in nature and places like this campus.”


Ignotz agrees with the prescription for well-being. Caring for a handful of houseplants was both a much-appreciated therapeutic exercise and it changed the way he looked at his future.