People and Gardens

November 2012

Harry Luther, Selby Garden's 'Mr. Bromeliad,' dies at 60

Harry Luther became a world leader in bromeliad research during his 32-year tenure at Selby Botanical Gardens, where he identified and named more than 180 species of the plant family.

Luther, 60, died Wednesday morning in Singapore, where he moved two years ago to continue his research at the Gardens by the Bay botanical park. He had been in the hospital just one day, admitted with what turned out to be a brain hemorrhage.

“Even though it’s been several years since he left Sarasota, I don’t think I can ever walk toward the entrance of Selby Gardens without expecting to see Harry somewhere nearby with his ready invitation to tour the greenhouses with him,” said Jay Thurrott, president of the Florida-based Bromeliad Society International. “He will be sorely missed.” Luther was an honorary trustee of the society. 

Nicknamed “Mr. Bromeliad,” Luther published over 200 articles in hobbyist and scientific journals, was recognized as a major contributor to many books, and became a scientific and editorial advisor to several journals. In a science dominated by PhDs, Luther did not finish college. A St. Petersburg native, he studied botany at the University of South Florida, worked at a commercial nursery, and did extensive field work. 

Tom Buchter, CEO of Selby, said Luther’s work at the gardens had significant impact worldwide. “He was a great field botanist; he did a great job of working with the plants,” Buchter said. Luther made trips to Central and South America, bringing plants and information back to Selby that then benefited other botanical gardens. In Sarasota, Luther immersed himself in the 14-acre gardens and lived for years in a small house on the grounds of the Selby mansion. He called his humble home “the maid’s quarters.”

A night owl, Luther often worked late into the evening. He was shy. In the years before he left Selby, he suffered a heart attack and had problems with his vision, which kept him from driving. In a 2010 Herald-Tribune interview, Stig Dalstrom, a former orchid researcher at Selby, described Luther as a “gregarious recluse” who took years to get to know.

When he left for Singapore, Luther had packed a half-ton of books and research to take with him. His colleagues in Singapore also remember his endearing traits, like his dry sense of humor, his love of cats, and his convincing performance as Santa Claus at a staff Christmas party, according to a tribute on the Gardens by the Bay website. Luther played a crucial role in building up the collection of bromeliads and epiphytic plants at the new Singapore gardens. “His enthusiasm has inspired the colleagues he has sadly left behind to work at achieving his goal,” the Gardens’ statement said.


Rodney Eason joined the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens as director of horticulture

There’s a new and accomplished plantsman at the helm of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens’ horticulture department. Rodney Eason joined the staff on October 1 as director of horticulture, filling the position held from 2008 to 2011 by Bill Cullina, who is now the Gardens’ executive director.

Eason is responsible for the plants and plantings throughout the Gardens’ 248-acre property in Boothbay. He supervises a core staff of seven horticulturists as well as summer interns and seasonal employees. He’s already participating in planning for future projects and is well suited to the task. For eight years prior to coming to the Gardens, he was on the staff of the famed Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. At Longwood he ensured that 300 acres of horticultural display gardens were at their best, year-round; managed more than 35 horticulturists as well as volunteers; was part of the design team for major projects; and served as curator of the native Magnolia collection.

“We’re thrilled to welcome someone of Rodney’s caliber to the Gardens,” says Cullina, who is a nationally known horticulturist and celebrated author/photographer. “His talents and experience will be a tremendous asset to the Gardens, and we’re all looking forward to working with him.”

Eason followed up a BS in landscape architecture at North Carolina State University with an MS in public horticulture from the University of Delaware and Longwood Graduate Program. Before joining the Longwood Gardens staff in 2004, he was the gardens curator at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Although we’ll miss Rodney Eason’s professionalism, creativity, and passion for his work, we are thrilled that he’ll be joining a wonderful team, caring for beautiful gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens,” said Sharon Loving, Longwood’s head of horticulture. 

Rodney and his wife Carrie, who is also a landscape architect as well as an accomplished artist, and their four young children have relocated from Kennett Square in Pennsylvania to East Boothbay and look forward to becoming active members of their new community. 


Grand Tradition Estate opens a new public garden

Since 1984, Grand Tradition Estate has been a popular venue for weddings and private events. On July 30, 2012, the estate opened its doors as a public garden, offering nature lovers a respite from urban life and a chance to experience the lush secret garden for the first time. Visitors trickled in mid-week, but the weekend was impressive with over 125 visitors from Fallbrook, Orange County, Riverside, and San Diego. Visitors received a walking map and complimentary refreshments at the estate mansion.  Many were greeted by owner Don McDougal, who gave personal tours. One master gardener who visited said, “The Grand Tradition Gardens rivals any gardens I’ve seen." Another couple said, “The advertising didn’t do the gardens justice, as this was so much more than we expected.” 

About the Gardens
Visitors to Grand Tradition Estate and Gardens will have the opportunity to tour the 15-acre grounds and enjoy hundreds of different plant species. Points of interest include the Victorian-style Beverly mansion; fountains, waterfalls, and a heart-shaped lake; and three themed gardens, including a formal rose garden, Arbor Terrace tropical garden, and Compass Mediterranean garden. Gardens and water features are accessible by way of a 0.64-mile, paved, wheelchair-accessible pathway, which is wheelchair accessible. Guests can enjoy fragrant flowers, scenic vistas and ever-changing botanicals now on display year-round. Group tours, garden workshops and docent programs are in the planning stages for fall.   Please enjoy our two-minute video tour of the gardens

History of Grand Tradition
In 1984, Beverly and Earl McDougal opened Grand Tradition Estate as a community gathering place that would capture the romance of the long-gone Victorian era
and provide couples with a storybook venue for wedding ceremonies and receptions. Over the years, the McDougals have expanded the landscape
to create additional thematic gardens and wedding sites, and, in 2012, decided to open the estate to public visitors. Expansion plans include a restaurant,
produce garden, outdoor lounge,  Southwest Garden, and Tuscan Vineyard.

For More Information
Please see for the best time to visit the gardens, and for driving directions, admission fee, photo gallery, menus, visitor information, and more. For information or questions by phone, please call 855.728.6466 or, if in the local area, call 760.728.6466.


The Birmingham Botanical Gardens' Japanese Gardens adds Thorne Amphitheater

On October 22, Birmingham Botanical Gardens began work on a stone amphitheater in the Japanese Gardens. Thorne Amphitheater is named in honor of the late Barbara Nell Drummond Thorne who presented the gift in her last will and testament to The Gardens. The project, which is expected to be completed in two weeks, will provide open-air and barrier-free seating for 80-100 guests, offering program space adjacent to the Douglas Moore Japanese Cultural Pavilion which was renovated and posthumously dedicated in April.  

ZEN Associates of Woburn, Massachusetts, designed the feature and will work in conjunction with Shelby County Growers on construction of the project. It is part of a long-term renovation plan for one of the most recognizable gardens at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which has already begun with the pavilion, the torii ("gate to heaven"), the Bridge of Accomplishment and the View-Receiving Bridge. A formal dedication of the new space is expected to be held in conjunction with the Japan-America Society of Alabama’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival in spring 2013. 


APGA accepts Spirit Award from America in Bloom

During a ceremony in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on September 20, 2012, Ron Cox, executive director at Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, accepted the America in Bloom Spirit Award on behalf of the American Public Gardens Association.

The award recognizes organizations whose missions and activities are consistent and complementary to the goals of America in Bloom (AIB). The APGA is committed to increasing the knowledge of public garden professionals throughout North America through information sharing, professional development, networking, public awareness, and research, so they have the tools to effectively serve visitors and members.

“We are thrilled to be recognized by AIB for our commitment to communities,” said APGA Executive Director Casey Sclar, PhD. “Just like AIB, APGA promotes the value of gardens, conservation, environmental protection, and beautification. It is wonderful to be acknowledged by another organization that is also helping to improve the quality of life in our country and around the world.”

AIB president Marvin Miller stated, “It is my honor to acknowledge the American Public Gardens Association. APGA and its members are leaders in promoting conservation, conducting education, serving as economic engines for communities, and often serving as places where the historic and cultural heritage of a region is preserved.”

The award was presented in June during APGA’s annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, but special recognition for APGA was given during AIB’s 11th Anniversary Symposium and Awards Program in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on September 20-22, 2012.

America in Bloom promotes nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.