Welcome to our new arboretum manager

You may have noticed a new face around the gardens, and if you haven’t, you can meet him right here! Brian Gayheart is our new Arboretum Manager. Finally, our seven acres of landscaped space has a manager of its own. We interviewed him here.

What is your plant ‘background’? How did you become interested in plants, and what brought you here today?

After graduating from the Horticulture program here at MSU in 2015, I worked at a large production nursery where the perennial department alone grew millions of plants a year. I worked there for a couple years and experienced how a large-scale nursery operated.

In 2017 I started my career at Cottage Gardens, a local nursery and garden center. I was there over four years as the nursery manager and really enjoyed my position. I learned a tremendous amount by working with trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals and even houseplants.

My main responsibility was purchasing all the plants we sold, planted and grew. So, I really had to comb through each genus we offered and re-evaluate what varieties we would carry. I learned a lot about the differences between the cultivars and which ones were best suited for our landscape climate. We also had gardens that I oversaw and worked with a team of people to expand and maintain. I learned so much during my time there and I'm grateful for every second of it.

I have always been interested in plants, but I never realized that they were something I was this passionate about. I love nature and have an appreciation for the living beauty all around us, so I naturally gravitated towards plants. I'm also an eager learner, so topics like plant biology and scientific names were very intriguing to me in school. I guess, the combination of an admiration for plants and a love of learning is what got me into plants.

Since discovering it as an MSU student, the Arboretum has always been one of my favorite gardens on campus. That connection was a big factor in my decision. I decided to come here not only because this is the first time the Arboretum has had its own manager, but also because It's a great opportunity to work with an amazing space. Honestly, it's an honor to be able to care for it. I'm also an avid gardener and love to exercise my horticultural talents. So, it just felt right; when I thought about exercising them here in the Arboretum, especially when it could be of such benefit.

What excites you about working in the arboretum?

Discovering and learning more about the existing collection and the potential to add a whole lot more. The Arboretum is very diverse so, in order to maintain the collections, I will have to learn how to properly care for numerous types of plants. Also, with several styles of gardens all sharing the space, it's an exciting blend of management techniques to master. I really look forward to learning and practicing these pruning techniques.

Overall, I'm excited because I can utilize my passion and talents on a space that is meant to inspire, educate and motivate people about plants. From planting to pruning and everything in between, I'll do my best to make sure the Arboretum stays a beautiful space for our community for years to come.

Are there any big projects you are interested in working on in particular?

To start, I look forward to pruning the existing plants to showcase their unique ornamental features. I like that the pruning depends on the characteristic to be highlighted or what area of the gardens the plant resides. The same tree could be pruned two or three different ways depending on what area it belongs to in the Arboretum. For example, a tree in the Japanese Garden is pruned differently than the same tree in the English Garden.

I'm also excited to plant newer tree varieties in the Arboretum to showcase the incredible abundance of newer cultivars available to today's gardener. One goal of mine is to increase the number of trees with more unique forms. I would love to add some unique weeping trees, dwarf globe conifers, and some columnar/fastigiate cultivars, just to name a few.

My hope would be that when visitors see these trees, they realize they are potential options in their own yards and gardens. There is a lot more variety out there than many people realize, so sharing these amazing plants with people will be very enjoyable for me.

What is your favorite plant?

I am such a plant lover; I have never been able to single it down to just ONE plant. I do have my favorites in each group though (trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals, etc.). For example, sugar maples are one of my favorite trees, baptisia is one of my favorite perennials, hydrangeas are one of my favorite groups of shrubs, and begonias one of my favorite groups of annuals. While I will always have my favorites, lately I have been fascinated with narrow-growing cultivars of trees and shrubs. That's all I'll say for now and I'll be sharing more about this in future newsletters.

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