Hamilton Receives APGA Award of Merit

Jun 29, 2020

Susan Hamilton, the recently retired Director of the University of Tennessee Gardens, has received the American Public Gardens Association Award of Merit for 2020. The award will be presented at the American Public Gardens Association 2020 virtual conference held online June 25-July 9.  

The award recognizes an American Public Gardens Association member who has performed with distinction in the field of public horticulture and has excelled as a public garden professional. The award is a career capstone for Dr. Sue—as Hamilton is known as to garden enthusiasts and professionals throughout Tennessee.  

Dr. Sue retired at the close of 2019 after a 37-year career with the UT Institute of Agriculture. Perhaps her most crowning achievement was envisioning how a 10-acre set of All-America Selections ornamental trials could be converted into a state botanical garden that includes flowering ornamentals, woody specimens, an arboretum and three separate sites located across the more than 400-mile length of Tennessee. Together the sites test and display thousands plants and landscaping concepts. From the gardens themselves to their added children’s structures, water features, sculptures and hardscapes, Dr. Sue engaged students and community partners to create outdoor spaces to enhance the teaching, research and outreach mission of the university. More than 100,000 people enjoy the UT Gardens sites annually. 

In addition to her time working in and for the UT Gardens, as an associate professor in the Department of Plant Sciences Dr. Sue was a leader in advocating, formulating, and maintaining an academic major concentration in public horticulture. According to James Newburn, the interim director of the UT Gardens who also served under Hamilton’s leadership as curator of the UT Gardens, Knoxville, Dr. Sue is a pioneer. “Few higher learning institutions offered a pathway to train future public garden leaders. Collaborating with other pioneers in the academic public horticulture field, she developed curricula and recruited students,” wrote Newburn in letter nominating Dr. Sue for the award. “The result has been that hundreds of her students in the disciplines of public horticulture and ornamental horticulture are in leadership positions in the private and public sectors including: horticultural businesses, public and private gardens, and academia.” Dr. Sue individually mentored 27 of those as graduate students in public horticulture.

“Being able to not only grow our original plant evaluation test plots into a true botanical garden but to also teach and mentor students, allowed me to have the most beautiful outdoor office and fueled my passion for people and plants,” says Dr. Sue. This concept is embodied in the UT Gardens’ tagline: Plants. People. Passion. Not surprisingly, Dr. Sue had a hand in its adoption. 

Over the years, Dr. Sue’s passion has been recognized in a number of ways. She has been a frequent author, media guest and invited speaker. In 2000 she was awarded “judge” status with the All-American Selections plant evaluation program; in 2001 she received the Perennial Plant Association’s Academic Award; in 2005, she received the William T. Miles, M.D., Memorial Award for Community Service and the Garden Education Award from All America Selections; and in 2008 she was a participant in the LEAD‐21 Leadership Development Program sponsored by USDA. In 2019 the UT Gardens was recognized with the Keep America Beautiful Mary Lou Horner Beautification Award.

In Dr. Sue’s honor, friends of the UT Gardens have established the Sue Hamilton Growth Endowment to support the Gardens’ ongoing needs. The endowment has already passed the $100,000 mark.

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