MUBG Partner Profile

Learning the Landscape

Tim Moloney


Mizzou Botanic Garden’s (MUBG) primary mission is one of education. A ramble through the beautiful campus is a grand introduction to an expansive variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. It is also a pretty good bet that whatever is thriving in MUBG’s USDA Hardiness Zone 6a gardens will more than likely flourish in similarly designated landscapes. 


Garden visitors won’t be graded on discoveries, but that is not the case for students in Plant Sciences Instructor Tim Moloney’s classes.


Moloney is responsible for a full suite of MU’s green industry course offerings. He teaches classes on landscape design, landscape site analysis, estimating and bidding, plant identification, arboriculture — including pruning — and digital landscape design rendering. 


“I honestly can’t imagine teaching what I teach without Mizzou Botanic Garden,” he said. “Campus is our classroom. The reality is that it’s a botanic garden. It’s meant to teach.”


Surprise career change

Moloney graduated from MU in December 1995 with a degree in plant sciences, specializing in horticulture, and went to work in the green industry. In 2008, when the instructor of MU’s Introduction to Landscape Design was unable to teach the class, Plant Science & Technology Teaching Assistant Professor Marianne Gowdy reached out to Moloney asking if he could fill in.


“At the time, I was working as the lead designer for Rost Landscaping. But, as it happens, there was a huge market crash and a recession that year and my hours at Rost had to be reduced.”


Moloney accepted the offer, thinking it was a one-time “band-aid fix”, especially since he does not have an advanced degree in horticulture.


“I had to quickly learn how to teach,” he said. “Then, when Advanced Landscape Design was to be offered in the spring, they asked me if I would teach it too.”


Moloney accepted the offer with the caveat that he be able to teach it at night since he still had a full-time day job. MU agreed and for the next four years, he taught both classes and worked for Rost. He also picked up the Green Industry Bidding and Estimating course, which, he described as a business course. 


“By the fall of 2012, I had three young kids ages 2, 7 and 12. Between the two jobs, I was missing some things,” he said. “I told MU that the spring semester of 2013 would be my last and they would have to find someone else. They needed a full-time person.”


Moloney went back to Rost but in the spring of 2014, after being asked to apply for the job of full-time landscape design instructor, Moloney exited his industry job and picked up where he left off at MU.


Dynamic classroom

“We take walking tours of the garden Mondays and Wednesdays,” Moloney said in reference to his campus-wide outdoor classroom. “I don’t think there is any way to identify plants other than doing it hands-on. That is where the garden really shines,”


Retiring faculty in Plant Sciences meant Moloney added plant ID courses to his teaching responsibilities.


Both woody and herbaceous plant identification courses were being taught in the fall. Moloney combined the categories and split them into two courses that he taught in the spring and fall, with an emphasis on seasonal performance.


“We can see how things grow and how they are doing where they are planted. We use the Tree Trails to assess tree development,” Moloney said. “What plants need and how they grow effects the composition of a design.”


Moloney believes one of the greatest benefits of using MUBG to teach is the opportunity to demonstrate how dynamic landscapes are. He referenced this summer’s drought and its obvious impact on plants in the gardens.


“It’s all part of the education,” he said. “We think trees are forever but [Landscape Services Director] Pete Millier’s crew recently removed and replaced a row of little leaf lindens, because the trees couldn’t recover after years of damage by invasive Japanese beetles.


“That is a great lesson [for students] about the dangers of monoculture [planting several trees of the same species in the same space]. Plant performance also lets me introduce the benefits of planting natives that can lower some landscape risks,” Moloney added.


“Recent replacement of trees on the Quad with species that will live longer demonstrates a good landscape choice. It also exposed shade-loving plants that will have to be replaced until the trees are larger. It’s a good lesson in how garden landscapes are dynamic.


Moloney said he has had a great working relationship with Pete and landscape designer, Zach Ignotz.


“It’s great to know the folks taking care of the gardens because it’s a teaching tool.”


Students and real-world design

Moloney’s “Advanced Landscape Design” course includes a capstone project: a real-world landscape design in which every student produces an original concept for the same assigned site. Clients include the MU campus and other entities. This year’s class developed concepts for an urban ag teaching garden in a space near Curtis Hall where a greenhouse previously stood. 


“Senior Margo Dempsey’s design was chosen to further develop,” Moloney said and added that he is working with campus on a use proposal to move the project forward. Stay tuned for more on this project.


“In 2009, [College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources] CAFNR’s Dean Payne requested a landscape design that would make the Ag Building more attractive,” Moloney said. His capstone class accepted the challenge and senior Justin Lacewell’s design was selected and implemented with the help of Millier and his team. This fall, that area was dedicated as the Tom and Alice Payne Plaza.


Other successful capstone concepts that have been implemented are a 2015 national cemetery near Waynesville, MO, and this past year, a native plant garden designed and installed in cooperation with the Deep Roots native plant organization, at the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement in Kansas. Students Elizabeth (Lizzie) Wernert and Rosie Newman’s concepts were selected, respectively for these projects.


“Think about it. A good portion of the world has my vocation as a hobby, Moloney said of his career choice satisfaction.


“As landscape designers, we have a living medium. What we do is an art and a science.”