Auburn University recently became the first school in the United States to offer a graduate certificate program in public horticulture.
The program was funded by 1952 Auburn business graduate Jimmy Pursell. Auburn’s board of trustees approved of the graduate program in 2013 and there are currently 13 students enrolled.
Four have graduated from the program and one, Ann Fleener, now serves as director of education at Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The two-year course consists of seven semesters of work and includes travel abroad to places such as Japan and Italy.
One of the key features of the program is practical work experience. Five students in the first public horticulture class were able to design and install outdoor classrooms at Fayetteville High School in Talladega County, Alabama.
“One of the more common complaints I hear from my students is the required experience that Extension jobs are looking for,” said Joe Eakes, professor in Auburn’s Department of Horticulture and director of the graduate program. “Many students can’t get an Extension job right out of college because the opportunities for experience are limited. This program will give you a head start with that experience.”
Public horticulture focuses on growing plants in public places. Places such as Disney World and other theme parks are designed by teams of public horticulturists.
“This isn’t for lab rats,” Eakes said. “It’s more for students who love to garden and share information about gardening. It’s in the field of public outreach, after all.”