UD redesigns its landscape horticulture program
Sue Barton, a longtime instructor in the landscape horticulture program: “We took a very successful, very well-regarded program and are making it even better.”
6 p.m., May 15, 2007--For a first-rate garden, you've got to know what to prune, what to plant and what to keep just as it is. Ditto for a first-rate academic program. Nowhere is this better exemplified than UD's landscape horticulture program, which is housed in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Department of Plant And Soil Sciences.

During the past 12 months, the program has been extensively restructured and the changes continue. Two new faculty members were added in September, an $80,000 design studio opened its doors last fall, and internship opportunities have been expanded. Most significantly, the curriculum has been redesigned. Two new concentrations have been proposed--one in landscape design and one in public horticulture. This change would enable students to focus their course work more closely on the skills needed for their desired career path. UD's Faculty Senate must approve this change, which is proposed for fall semester of 2008.

And new courses are already on the schedule, including History of Landscape Design, to be offered this fall, and a study program to Brazil during Winter Session 2008.

“We took a very successful, very well-regarded program and are making it even better,” Sue Barton, a longtime instructor in the program, said.

The landscape horticulture program offers a unique blend of science, business and practical experience to prepare students for successful careers in landscape horticulture, nursery/greenhouse production, landscape design and public horticulture, to name a few. It's structured to offer a mixture of classroom work, laboratory experiences, studio projects, internship experience and study abroad opportunities to provide students with a broad education in the field.

Barton said she is excited about the proposed new concentrations and sees this change as a way to give students a better understanding of the major career paths in horticulture. “We already have a fantastic graduate program in public horticulture administration with the Longwood Program, and we have great connections to a variety of gardens and horticultural societies,” Barton said. “The new public horticulture concentration will take advantage of these resources and get our students out working in the industry with several
internship programs.”

Landscape horticulture was formally recognized as a program at UD in the 1990s but horticultural and landscape design courses were offered decades before that. “I was a plant science major here in the 1970s, but I took many of the courses that are continuing to be offered in the landscape horticulture program,” Barton said. “We didn't change for the sake of change. We deliberately retained those aspects of the program that have always worked very well.”

The “we” that Barton refers to is the committee from the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences charged with revamping the program. Those faculty members are: Jules Bruck, assistant professor; Chad Nelson, assistant professor; John Frett, professor; David Frey, associate professor; Wallace Pill, professor; Robert Lyons, professor; and Sherry Kitto, professor. Two landscape horticulture program graduates also served on the committee--Kevin Mayhew, who is landscape superintendent at Newark Country Club, and Rick Colbert, director of the Tyler Arboretum in Media.

At times, it can be tough for any group to reach consensus but one decision was easy for this committee--agreeing to build a new design studio.

“This new studio utilizes flexible equipment that allows for many options,” Nelson, who is one of the two new faculty members added in September, said. “For example, the drafting tables have split tops, so students can easily switch from hand design on drafting paper to computer-aided design on laptops.” Nelson is a 1995 graduate of UD's landscape horticulture program.

There is room for up to 16 students to work in the studio at any one time. A special scanner allows for the scanning of over-sized designs so students can retain their work in a manageable size for their portfolios. And a comfortable reading area invites students to study or do research between classes.

The emphasis on comfort was purposeful, as today's landscape horticulture majors will be spending a lot more time in the studio than previous generations of students.

“Technology plays an important role in landscape design, allowing designers to use advanced tools to map out projects, perform detailed analysis, and quickly revise and update plans,” Nelson, whose current teaching responsibilities include introductory landscape construction, field sketching and computer modeling of landscape subjects, said.

“It's imperative that our students be well-versed in the latest technologies,” Nelson added. “Intensive design work is an important aspect of the new curriculum.”

Time in the studio is essential but so, too, is time in the field. And that's where the faculty's extensive industry contacts come in handy. Barton is the UD Cooperative Extension specialist for ornamental horticulture and works regularly with a wide variety of industry professionals.

Nelson and the other new faculty member, Bruck, made the commitment to maintain their respective landscape design businesses after joining the faculty. Nelson continues to consult with Rodney Robinson Landscape Architects, where he worked full time before joining UD. The firm's work is diverse, including long-term historical preservation projects. Recent work includes the rehabilitation and fountain design of Magnolia Circle on the UD campus and a rehabilitation of South Park Drive, a nine-acre forested section of Brandywine Park in Wilmington. Bruck is typically involved with the design of residential projects, in a partnership with Andrew Bunting, who runs a well-regarded Pennsylvania landscaping firm.

New faculty members Jules Bruck (seated, center left) and Chad Nelson (standing, left) confer with students in UD’s new landscape horticulture design studio, which opened its doors last fall.
Their dual roles make for lots of juggling for these faculty members, but the synergy created pays off in big dividends for the landscape horticulture students. Barton is able to connect students with Cooperative Extension and industry internships, projects and on occasion, jobs. And even though Nelson and Bruck have been on staff just nine months, they, too, have already arranged several student internships at area landscape firms and public gardens.

“The University of Delaware is situated in the hotbed of public horticulture,” Barton noted. “There are more gardens per square foot in the Delaware Valley than any other place in the world. Our students have a chance to gain experience from the top leaders in their field.”

And one well-regarded public garden is right on the students' door step. The University of Delaware of Botanic Gardens (UDBG) is a series of 12 gardens on 15 acres that includes a Magnolia Society test garden and native and herbaceous gardens. An additional 35-acre Ecology Woods, open only to students and researchers, focuses on the effects of habitat fragmentation on native endangered species of wildlife.

Program faculty member John Frett, who also is the director of the UDBG, frequently takes his classes on field trips out to the UDBG to bring studio design ideas to life.

Another invaluable learning opportunity will take place next Winter Session, when the program offers its first-ever study abroad program. The month-long program in Brazil will visit many of the landscapes of Roberto Burle Marx, a wildly imaginative designer who has been called the “Picasso of landscapers.”

“Using the landscapes of Roberto Burle Marx as our focal point, we are designing a Winter Session program that focuses on tropical ecosystems and helps students see how natural landscapes inspire design,” Barton said.

Other changes in store for the landscape horticulture program include a recruitment effort to attract additional students, especially those students who wouldn't traditionally be drawn to the field.

Bruck's own background fits that description perfectly. Growing up in Annapolis, Md., she had no particular affinity for gardening, though she always enjoyed art and design. She was initially a business major at Penn State but found herself unhappy with that choice and “stumbled” upon landscape contracting. She quickly knew she had found her niche and was the first female to graduate from that major at Penn State.

“Landscape design fuses creative aspects of art and design with the technical and scientific aspects of horticulture,” Bruck said. “It brings together science, business and art in a career field that offers unlimited opportunity.”

Career prospects are red-hot for UD's landscape horticulture grads and show no signs of abating. Landscape design has been ranked as one of the nation's fast-growing professions.

“There are a lot of opportunities in this field,” Leslie Carter, AG '07, said. She plans to enroll in a master's program in landscape architecture, but said that graduate school isn't a necessity to obtain a good job in landscape design. “I know that students right out of college are able to land management positions.”

“I feel very confident that our landscape horticulture students will achieve great career success,” Bruck said. “When I arrived here in September, I was bowled over by the talent and energy of these students.”

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Kathy Atkinson and Danielle Quigley