From his base as a faculty member and administrator at Cornell University, Don has impacted the North American public garden community in four significant ways: co-authoring the first two books that examine the role and functioning of public gardens as important community institutions; supporting APGA and its programs through committee work; developing undergraduate and graduate programs in public garden administration to ensure strong future leadership in the profession; and finally through his work to promote the recognition of plants as major contributors to the creation of sustainable communities and healthy individuals.
Promoting Public Gardens as Valuable Community Institutions
Until the publication of Public Garden Management, there had been no books that examined the operations and management of public gardens. There were hundreds of books on beautiful landscapes and gardens, but none that identified public gardens as museums with living collections and strong educational and research programs. When I called Don in 2007 to ask him to consider co-authoring a textbook that would detail the management and operations of public gardens, he was the Executive Director of Cornell Botanic Gardens, a faculty member at Cornell University, and the chair of the Editorial Advisory Group for Public Garden; in other words, he was a very busy man. But Don said yes because he knew that having such a book would be a solid foundation upon which to build academic programs, help new and expanding public gardens with valuable information to ease their road forward, and introduce public gardens to a broader world. Published in 2011, the book accomplished all three goals and is still in publication, including one edition in Korean.
The first book led to the second. Don volunteered to do a Cornell University Library talk on the book, which led to Cornell University Press asking him to think about doing a second book focused on the roles of public gardens in American cities. That book, Public Gardens and Livable Cities published in 2020, changes the paradigm of how public gardens are commonly perceived by focusing on their community outreach programs. Specifically, the book examines how public gardens working in partnership with other nonprofits, governmental units, and for- profit organizations can create initiatives that address such urban concerns as safe neighborhoods, quality education, access to fresh and healthy foods, job training and employment opportunities, and environmental health.
Professional associations depend heavily on willing volunteers to support their programs. Particularly in its early days, APGA needed volunteers to realize the goals of its ambitious publishing and research initiatives. Don was one of those members who stepped forward and helped the organization grow needed member services. He used his professional networks and expertise to identify writers and reviewers for the journal Public Garden and presenters for professional education programs, and he encouraged other members to get involved in key programs. Over the years Don was a member and chair of the Editorial Advisory Group, chair of the Awards Committee, member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and member of the APGA Board of Directors. That lengthy service was the basis for his well-deserved recognition with the APGA Service Award in 2009 and the Award of Merit in 2015.
Don was instrumental in the creation of the Cornell Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership, an intensive one-year Master of Professional Studies program focused on public garden professionals wishing to advance their knowledge and career preparedness. As one of the very few such academic programs in the U.S., the Cornell program is critical to ensuring the leadership necessary to the future growth and survival of public gardens.
Value of Plants and Nature to Individual Health
Even as he starts his retirement, Don is pursuing new avenues to promote the value of plants in creating healthy communities. In 2019, Don co-authored his third book, Nature Rx, which summarizes the value of nature prescription programs that encourage students to spend time in nature and come to a greater understanding of the natural world. Based on clinical research, the book includes a guide to creating a college Nature Rx program and features case studies of programs already in place. As is his wont, Don didn’t just publish a book on the topic, he now co-directs the Campus Nature Rx Network that includes 50 colleges and universities and was just awarded a grant from the REI Cooperative Action Fund to extend the program to historically black colleges and universities and to community colleges.