Bringing Nature Indoors with Sue Hamilton


Welcome to twenty twenty and a brand new decade. This is the Tennessee magic moments podcast. And I'm your host Lauren Bath with the UT Institute of Agriculture her. Thank you for starting your New Year with us today. We have a special episode in store for you. A New Year is an opportunity to look both before us and behind so in in that spirit. We're GONNA take today to look back on a career that has shaped Tennessee's horticulture at the close of two thousand nineteen Sue Hamilton Director of the UT Gardens in Knoxville Fox will retired but before she made the official announcement. Sue Sat down to talk all things gardening with the Tennessee magic moments crew. I'm also joined by a special co host uh-huh Selena she's an agricultural communication student at ut and she joins me behind the podcasting Mike to interview. In fact I think I'll let Selena. Take it from here. Imagine you're sitting on your couch all bundled up with a blanket and some hot chocolate with the aroma of peppermint and lavender to distress from the hectic holiday holiday. Times you look outside your window and you may see some frost on the ground and little redbirds hanging out on the bare tree branches. Doc Hello Welcome to the Tennessee magic moments podcast where we celebrate agriculture's influence in our everyday lives. I'm Selena Menard. An intern at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Today we'll be learning about sue Hamilton. And her time at the University of Tennessee as well some tips and tricks on container gardening to make your home a little more green and a little more cosy on these cold winter days. Well we are here here today with Sue Hamilton with the UT gardens and we also have a special co host Selena Maynard. She's my intern this year. Hey Selena Hey Lauren Lauren. How are you good So we're GONNA talk a little bit about container gardening today as well as the legend that is Hamilton Hamilton. I saw that IRA sue. Yeah I mean it one hundred percent true it. It's quite a career you've had really has been but let's start off with Some pretty easy questions you want to start it Sure so you just want to start out by saying like who you are and why you're here today. Sure I'm Su- Hamilton and I'm the director of The University of Tennessee Gardens which on proud to say is now recognized as our state botanical gardens of Tennessee. I've been here at ut for thirty seven years. And I've been the director of the garden since two thousand eight. Wow to longtime longtime yeah so prior to that. I was A professor for teaching and research in I founded our public horticulture program. I'm here at ut. Which I'm I'm I have to say as a career highlight? That's one thing I'm really proud of is that we've got a public horticulture program one of the few in the the United States and we've just got graduates all over the United States in some really prestigious outstanding jobs in public horticulture meaning botanical gardens his writing publications doing radio and all kinds of things. Thought like what we're doing here today. Yeah it's an impressive program you guys have done a Lotta great work. Thanks So this will actually be airing in January. Hopefully it'll be a little bit cold by then we're recording a little earlier think it's pre-thanksgiving giving right now but gardening is year round it it surely can be absolutely indoors and and outdoors and I think you guys WanNa talk today about indoor gardening gas so we were wondering if you could tell us a little bit about container gardening gardening right so indoor container gardening. Basically let's talk about growing house plants or interior perio- plants or foliage plants. You'll find That term used interchangeably referring to you know again. I'll just say our house is plants. But there are some fabulous selections out there on the market and now Like you guys have said container. Gardening I'm going to say I think it can kinda start with the container when you think about What you WANNA do indoors? Wow you can find containers is to be complementary to whatever you've got going on indoors so you're gardening comes part of your interior decoration absolutely. Yeah so I think that could be a good way to approach. It is to think about what you have going on indoors. Is There A. Is there a decorating theme aim. Is there a color theme. And then Kinda Keep that in mind as you start checking out in exploring containers because it's just it's never before. Have we seen such really beautiful in neat unusual different type containers that you can use indoors. I hadn't thought about at that part of it. I I just think about the plant itself and kind of thinking about the color. Or what have you but the container itself especially with house plants can really be part part of the whole aesthetic boy. It sure can and I'll tell you that A lot of the beautiful outstanding containers like were mentioning here are are not always the cheapest thing so if you're going to spend some money boy I would look at it as being part of a furnishing an accent p something. I'm to be complementary to your indoor decor so after you've found the container that you would like to have in your home that goes with your team and stuff like that. What else do you need to go in that plant in that container? Okay so when you do look at in door. Gardening light is a very big deal. Because the minute and it you move indoors you know lighting dramatically changes so you ought to know that in the world of Interior House plant plant foliage plants. There's kind of the low light plants. I'll even say some plants that I would categorize as they can grow in a cave. So if if you've got really low light like very limited windows really want to kind of zero in on plants that are categorized as being low light verses. This is there are some that you could say yum medium light and there's highlight plants that are going to like your succulent CACTI. Typically the thicker the leaf the more sun loving the brighter light loving. That plant is really think about if you're familiar with jade or any succulent. How the leaves tend to be very thick I thought that had more to do with the moisture level that they preferred well? I guess you could likewise with that. Due to the thicker the leaf typically because it does contain a lot of moisture the higher the light and the less Moi moisture requiring the lower amount amount of water is the house whereas. I'm what you think about a fern. FERNS can be really nice indoor plant they have a very thin leaf leave. They typically don't like bright bright or they don't like son and they require a lot of water. I have a billion windows and I never remember to the water so I think succulents are more there. You and forgiving plants. You want the the forgiving plants definitely so I think the first thing you WanNa do when you start thinking okay. I want to put some live. Plants grow some live plants indoors. Here is think about kind of study and think about the amount of of light that you have indoors is d get direct sun. Is that a highlight southern exposure where you could go for If you're familiar with like rubber Robert Tree Rubber Tree. It's type of Feick tree. That does a great endorse it. It too has a bit thicker. WACK sier the leaf. It would do very well in bright bright light all right so you WANNA. You're mindful about the amount of light that you have next interior. Are Your House plants. They really like the temperatures that we like as human beings so think about we. I think most people probably are are comfortable around. What sixty eight to seventy two in? That range is what most people probably keep their homes up. That's the plants are happy at that at at that level. So imagine if you're in a window and it's wintertime is probably belonged chillier. Yeah so it may be that you want to move those plants out of the window. Oh sill during the winter months another thing that Lord and I were talking about was like pets. Do you have any tips and Jigsaw John. If you have any pets in the house yell you WanNa An. Let's just throw win. Small children too because yes there are plants that fall into to the category of being poisonous. And they. Yeah Yeah They can be poisonous to pets but they could also be poisonous to people a young child that might be exploring or tasting and also again as you as you're thinking about. How much like do I have temperature? I would think about maybe checking out some of the plants that you're drawn to. That are appealing to you. You know where do they fall on that poisonous chart and again. It's every every plants individuals so you're going to want to read up on it and find out is toxic or not. I'll throw one interior plant because we're up on the holiday today season and You hear so much still about point. Setty is being toxic being poisonous. In all actuality the the point Setia itself has been proven many times to not be poisonous or toxic to animals or people but where I believe that myth has come from gets passed. Along is that there are members of the plant family. There's many plants in that family that are toxic sick to animals and to people. So I think that's where that that comes from but in all actuality when you start looking at the point Setia that we enjoy during Christmas Christmas time in the holiday season it is not a poisonous plant. So where do you find that information. You may find it on a plant label. You May WanNa Do a search on the Internet about indoor poisonous plants And and start doing a comparison among lists to see what seems is to be pretty well recognized as being poisonous plant. Also there is a poison control center. I think every community. There's a national hotline but I think every community has A poison control. You know phone number and all that you can call in and That is going to include outdoor indoor. You know all kinds of plants so you could check it out that way. Yeah so something to definitely not deter you from. I'm getting some house plants this winter but something to consider if you've got some pets or small children right right. So what kind of house plans do you have. Well I tend to go for the forgiving plants. The low light plants and let me say that a lot of the lower light plants can take brighter. Light it's just that they are that we value them because they really have proven to be able to tolerate really low light so some of my favorite ones and once that I grow so There's one that's called Agley. Nima Agley Nima is I don't know any other common name. That's the botanical. And the and the common name. It's a beautiful plant that You can get a solid green but most of them come in variations of different colors. I've seen some even have pink and red in them and then others that are more silvery and blue So really pretty yeah. There's so there's you can have multiple notable Agley anemic around and they could look very different so that is one I would. Highly recommend is a very forgiving plant. you might be familiar with P. Slowly Spat the film it to a very forgiving plant. It will it dramatically Wiltz. So there's absolutely no question. This plant is going to let you know when it needs water but as quick as you water it bounces right back where now let me tell you if you let a fern really wilt and all they may not bounce back they they may go ahead and die on us. Some plants are more tolerant of wilting in going dry versus others. Different BOCCI dumb cane gene. Now that is one plan I can tell you. That is pretty toxic But it's a beautiful indoor plant and I'll say the reason it's called dumb I'm king is if you were to bite into the leaf or the stem The chemicals causes your tongue to swell. And you you're dumb you can't speak. Oh so dumb cane. That's if you were to bite into that. That's really interesting. Yeah so that's how gets its common name now that so that's a good example of a poisonous plant but it to like the Agley Nima comes in a variety of different colors so you can have multiple ones and they all look very different from each each other so from your perspective. Why do we bring plants into our house? Why do we do house plants? Now let me tell you what we as I know as a horticulturist order cultures. You know it's one thing to have the beauty and what they are adding indoors but boy are they workhorses. They do a variety of things indoors at many people may not realize the benefits first off. There's the psychological benefit that we recognize for outdoor plants being in nature. And as well us if you want to say bringing nature indoors with indoor plants. It's it's almost like we're born with an innate desire need to have plants we've had a syndrome called nature deficit syndrome that's been identified Especially in children that are not outdoors playing in nature. You probably recognize is. There's a lot of information in the news lately about how important it is to get outdoors and engage in nature. Take a walk in the woods. Take a walk in the park Sit on a bench and just enjoy the surrounding beauty of nature and even when it is cold outdoors you can be surrounded by nature indoor indoor so so so greenery lied. Growing plants has a very beneficial psychological effect on us now physiological is pretty interesting in pretty neat what has been found through research. We know that in the presence of plants again outdoors indoors studies have recorded noted that your pulse rate slows your heart rate slows the stress level your stress level quarter Saul levels all all drop and so taking a moment and just surrounding yourself or having these plants around physiologically they call it you can chase the blues away By having plants indoors on all during the winter months. That's really important especially those that suffer from seasonal affective affective disorder absolutely ringing implants. Indoors can have some real benefits and then let me tell you Another role that again. We you may not be so aware of but they filter and clean the air they filter and clean our water. They will filter out pollutants indoors. Like what we have from you know new carpeting and interior furnishings. And things like that. That's a real issue especially for Individuals that deal with asthma We think about pollution outdoors with smog and things like that but there's so many indoor pollutants that were exposed to on a daily basis. One formaldehyde is a pretty yet cleaning. Supplies is yes all of that and so you may not realize it. Yeah you may not realize it but plants are filtering the air that we're breathing and they're a NASA Of all of all places NASA has identified some of the real world courses. That are that are the best for cleaning our air and you might be familiar with spider. Peter Plant Fun Popular House plant. Kids can have fun with it. Because you know they'll throw off the the little baby spiders or little pups and and all. That is a good plan for filtering air. Yeah we'll thank you so much for Giving us a little bit of insight about I'm houseplants in container gardening. I definitely need to get a few more for my house this winter. Make it a little bit Fresher and Greener. I like that. Yeah we we also wanted to talk a little bit about you and your career here at ut. Because thirty seven years. While I know. I just I can't I can't believe leave it myself. I'm at this point. It just seems like I would like you guys being young and starting your careers and look towards graduating from school and all in it just just seems like I was just at that point and here. We are thirty seven years down the road. Wow well that's thirty. Seven years also of horticultural Israel wisdom. So we wanted to pick your brain a little bit and ask you a little bit about your career. You have been here a little bit longer time than I have have and I was doing some research and I could not figure out when did the UT GARDENS START I started here at ut ut in one thousand nine hundred eighty three right out of graduate school twenty three years old. We started that same year. I was hired by Professor Department head of horticulture here at ut he he too was new and he came from the University of Georgia where they had started. Did A test program for herbaceous plants. Meaning all your annuals in your perennials. Out in the landscape and so he brought that idea here and he started that program and I worked with him on starting and We started out with just straight strips of annuals planted planet out on the ground. We did evaluations on their performance. Like what did really well for us. And we would send that information back into the seed implant companies and thirty seven years later here we are. We still have that program going. And we've we have grown from having just straight strips strips that were not imaginative or beautiful or steady in any manner except for color. And now here. We are your State State Botanical Gardens of Tennessee. And you know all kinds of different elements that we've developed as part of this garden hoste garden. We have a children's Children's garden we have a conifer collection and a Rose Garden. So wow yeah. It's pretty rewarding to see it. Go from I'm just pure annuals to now having a different type gardens and collections plant collections. And all the Ut Gardens themselves have grown Here in Knoxville from just a couple of Rose to these meandering gardens and and and everything else but it's also grown across the state correct absolutely and that is an important element of how we became recognized as a legislative act by the Tennessee legislature. That the University of Tennessee Gardens are are recognized as the as the State Botanical Gardens at Tennessee and so it goes back and part of the evolution of our plant evaluation program program which we started in nineteen eighty three with annuals. We we did the same thing. Over at one of our Agra search education centers and Jackson and so the annual set we were evaluating here Knoxville. We started planting them as well in Jackson Tennessee. And so it's all it's it's all grown to wear now We do have the UT Gardens in Jackson the UT Gardens in Crossville and now and and then in Knoxville collectively the state botanical gardens. Yeah and I I. I'm proud of this that the people running running those gardens are graduates of our program here and so they all worked. They were one point interns here in the Knoxville Garden. And and now you know we've got Jason Reeves and we've got selena Dirk hot at Crossville and those guys are providing the leadership all on the horticulture and the plant evaluation programs there. So so you're very proud of the horticulture therapy program that started here at. Ut can you tell me about how that began and where it's grown. Yeah I just have to say again as director of the gardens I it's been very rewarding to grow the gardens not not only in plant collections in different aspects of the gardens but to grow the staff as well one of our staff members Derek. Sto well he has started a a horticulture therapy program as part of the gardens. He's grown so much she's actually hired. He's got to people he's hired now that are working full time I'm with him on going out into the community not only redoing horticulture therapy here on campus and in the UT Arns but he is now taking. Let's say the UT gardens into a lot of facilities like assisted living facilities Senior citizen an centers boys and girls clubs. He's going to these different organizations and he's taking the plants and he's going in with planned programs. TMZ It is. It's it's taken off He's got so many clients now. Organizations that are paying to have him and staff members. Come in and do these therapeutic sessions or programs using plant. Yeah so you've seen the UT gardens Go from a couple long plots of land to an entity that's now expanding to the outer Knoxville community and bring gardening to people in the community that never may have interacted with ut gardens before right and some of these cases the the people are no longer able to get out on their own and come to a garden like the UT gardens and it's been neat to see gardening the field of horticulture the culture and the the leisure activity of gardening grow from when I started to where we are. Now you know. Gardening continues to be the number one leisure activity. Really Americans seventy five percent of Americans Garden and you know we've seen and I think that number may even be up right now for twenty nineteen because so many people are getting more and more going back to wanting to grow their own food the whole local movement yeah. I think it's expanding kind of what we thought of gardening. 'cause I don't do well when it comes was to horticulture gardening as far as sticks. It's not gonNA happen but I was able to Latch on personally to the Basil The oregano some sweet peppers and things like that things I could grow easily in a container and then could use a little extra incentive on me. I think for me to actually water those because I was going to use them with cooking so I think yeah it's expanded what we consider absolutely and let me say that In the thirty seven years. So I've been here the last two Let's say twenty eighteen twenty nineteen first time ever that sales in what we call. Edibles your vegetables and your fruits like growing your own blueberries raspberries in your tomatoes and your Basil's and all that I first time the last two years in American gardening history that sales of edibles has surpassed ornamental really. Yeah so so you think about buying your annual flowers and all more people bought were they could take home and grow and have have some of that in their in their Home Garden Arden we also want to ask you about the public horticulture program. You mentioned that before we started pressing record. And you're really proud of that. I am because there's not that many universities around the United States that offer a program in public horticulture and public horticulture alter is working. It's where you are educating teaching and writing talking in all about the use of plants and gardening when you think about like hgtv when when initially that whole network started They had a lot of gardening. Shows that were on and think about if you're going to be the host of gardening. TV show you better know your stuff you and let me tell you. That's that's where I was going to go with this public horticulture program you'd better be a good horticulture. We we did. We did a radio show for fifteen years called garden. Talk and let me tell you when you're in the hot seat and you get the phone calls people garden top. People could call all in and asked her questions and we had a team of us. It took a team because horticulture. Gardening is a huge field. When you think about growing those edibles house plants chance flowering plants trees shrubs? Your lawn all of that. I mean it's a vast field so you learn real quick if you're if you're doing public horticulture horticulture teaching and talking about plants and all people asking you questions you better be a good horticulturist and know a lot about the different areas of the field so we're preparing during the next generation of horticultural for the State of Tennessee. Right yeah never before. Have we seen such a demand for regarding information had to do gardening how to work with plants all of that so boy public horticulture is alive and well and yeah we are one of the few universities universities that actually offers a concentration in that. That's awesome and you mentioned it the Radio show and in other ways. You're talking about gardening. It's not just here at ut gardens you're out in the community and you're educating what are some of the ways in your career that you've been enable to engage with the community that have been just really impactful for you and use enjoyed. I have to say boy. The radio shows at the the top of the list there at one point. We're on for two hours and I can tell you we would take twenty two calls in two hours. That was a lot you know and we. We couldn't get home them all so that was very rewarding that you know you had that many people listening and wanting to call in and had questions that they wanted to get answers to so that was incredibly rewarding. Let me say with the the UT gardens we know that we have over one hundred thousand. People attend the gardens visit and our membership ship with the gardeners continues to grow We have a list serve where we send out a monthly newsletter and All different special announcements percents We do offer gardening trip and the last one we offered in three days filled and and we we started a weightless and we ended up taking two buses to meet the demand to go on the last bus trip that we did. So that is incredibly rewarding and exciting that many people you know. Want to join you to go. Oh See and talk and enjoy gardens. We were also reading about you a little bit more and we found out that you were a CO author. Author of a book called the Best Garden Plants in Tennessee. Do you WanNa talk about that. Yeah that was. That was fun. That was fun and every now and then you get somebody that has bought the book and you know they want you to sign it. That that's exciting. But it's a great book because for for Tennessee because so many many people retire here. We have a lot of people that move here. And so it's new to them gardening and mid South Zone so that that book look is just perfect for anybody that is just getting into gardening or has moved here and may not be so familiar with our plant Palette of what all does really really well here. So it's it's kind of a basic book but it does highlight and it's all done in categories like the best twenty the twenty best trees the twenty best shrubs annuals perennials. And all that that to grow in our Tennessee mid south region it sounds like a great resource and it was fun to do. And let me tell you it was hard to cut it down to like twenty in each category. That's one of the things we do with the UT guards here is identify the best I Performing Plants and then we want to promote those plants. But I can tell you the list is way longer than just twenty trees twenty shrubs so we haven't mentioned this yet yet but this is actually Pretty timely because sue you've announced you're meant one. Is that happening. Well it it really happens here at the end of the year the End of two thousand nineteen is I'm going to say the end of my professional career at ut but let me tell you. I plan to come back and be a avid volunteer. And I'm really looking forward to working with the plants out in the gardens. You know maybe I'll come and help do some pruning you know We haven't adopted spot programme and I've got already my own little adopt a spot area that I'll have my name on it that I come and I'm responsible for so and I want to continue to do the Garden bus trips. That we've started. Yeah and we're looking forward to doing three three different ones in twenty twenty so I think between volunteering over here and working with the plants and then doing doing trips I'll be around but I'm looking forward to having you know setting my own schedule and picking and choosing when and what I WANNA do and I can definitely appreciate that. Yeah so what out of everything that you've done here at your time at ut. What has been your absolute absolute favorite thing? Gosh I guess two things overall the leadership and a of the garden sing grow and expand as it had to where we are and growing that staff. It's I think it all comes back to people so growing the staff half and having a lot of young professionals really getting into growing their career. And we've hired such wonderful. We've got a great staff talented politic staff enthusiastic and energetic and then I have to say the students over the years ahead twenty seven graduate students and every every one of those graduate students. You know It's it was when when they graduated. They did a great job. Great relationship with that student. You didn't many of them are in stellar careers. Jobs out in the industry so the graduate students and undergrads advising I always conjoined advising students and helping them kind of find and realize their passion and like I mentioned that horticulture is a pretty big broad field within. You can really specialize and You know helping students find what area of horticulture really speaks to them. Nothing is more rewarding into the light. Come on for a student and they get so excited and you know they text me and ask questions and stay in touch and I. It's all about the people the relationships the students I've to say that's probably the most rewarding so what excites you about the future the ut gardens yes you may not be officially at the helm but you'll still be around and you've set a real good place. There's so much growth you've helped with build up so many different programs. The Children's garden the hoste gardens. We mentioned several the The Rose Garden just so many different different pieces and parts. That's just is the structural part but then also the programs and the people you've wrought onboard this is your legacy and it's going to be pushing toward the future. What excites you about future for? Ut Gardens I what excites me is that. I know it's not done literally growing. Continue to grow An outreach the different dimensions of the gardens will continue to grow and get fine tuned and more refined and and The one major thing we lack at this point and I I am. I'm very optimistic that this is going to happen in the not too distant future but we are going to get a visitor education building so I think that and then just the gardens becoming more refined. You know we've got gravel paths. Maybe at some point They we end up with a porous hard surface like porous asphalt or pores concrete. Oh you know that I can just see things getting more refined and just at a higher quality higher standard than where we are right now they call the UT Garden and sometimes the front porch of the university so making that even Prettier Front Porch Prettier Front Porch. And I think too with that visit education concentre of the university. The system are chancellors are deans. Man This ought to be the place where they host meetings and in bring students and bring families and get them excited about. What all is happening at the University of Tennessee? I mean it's I tell. Everybody got the prettiest office on on campus. You know. We've got the prettiest outdoor laboratory. The prettiest outdoor classrooms. So everybody ought to be using this and taking advantage of and let it be like you said. It's the front door the front porch to the university. Thank you so much for listening. If you're enjoying this podcast it would help us out tremendously if you would just leave a rating and review on itunes or whatever platform. You're listening on this helps. Listeners find us us and grow our impact so for Tennessee. Magic moments on slim art in intern for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and remember whereas always. There's no magic without egg.

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