Botanical Gardens New Director Seeks to Engage People With Gardens, Nature

As the new director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, Jeff Gillman sees his mission as engaging the public with the gardens and with nature.

“My goal is to bring the gardens to the public,” Gillman said. “The gardens have had a wonderful base over the years, and I hope we can bring it to a wider audience and help more people to experience not only the gardens, but also plants in general. That is something I’ve worked on for my whole career – public engagement and getting people to appreciate plants and the environment.”

Gillman assumed his role on August 1, following in the footsteps of Larry Mellichamp, who retired at the end of 2014 after almost four decades with the Botanical Gardens and with UNC Charlotte.

“I’m looking forward to working in this absolutely gorgeous environment,” Gillman said. “Larry Mellichamp and the staff here, along with many supporters, have built these gardens into one of the most diverse and magnificent gardens that I’ve ever had the opportunity to walk through. The opportunity to direct these gardens feels like one I’ve been waiting for all my life.”

He and his family moved to Charlotte from Minnesota in 2013 to be closer to extended family. He most recently was an instructor for the Department of Horticulture Technology at Central Piedmont Community College. Prior to that, he was an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture Science at the University of Minnesota. His work focused on urban and consumer horticulture, particularly sharing research information with the public.

At the University of Minnesota, Gillman directed the activities of the Teaching, Research and Extension Nursery, with its 8-acre nursery devoted to research and the education of university students and the general public.

“While at the University of Minnesota as a professor, I began to see how better education related to gardens and plant material would benefit the public,” Gillman said. “Early on in my career, I realized how important it was to help people learn more about plants. My first book, The Truth About Garden Remedies, was actually in direct response to bad information people were getting.”

He wrote four additional books, including How the Government Got in Your Backyard, with co-author UNC Charlotte professor Eric Heberlig; Decoding Gardening Advice; The Truth About Organic Gardening; and How Trees Die.

“This type of work got me more engaged with the public and led to a position as contributing editor to Fine Gardening magazine,” he said. “It led to monthly newspaper columns for the Star Tribune newspaper in Minnesota and led to a lot of public engagement across the country. I’ve had the opportunity to speak in a variety of venues, including the two largest flower shows in the United States and at Epcot Center in Orlando.”

Gillman also has appeared on television on The Martha Stewart Show, presenting on garden remedies, and twice on Growing a Greener World.

He is a founding member of The Garden Professors, a group of professors from throughout the United States who distribute sound, research-based information to the public. The group provides information through its Facebook site and blog.

Gillman has taught public certificate programs including the Extension Master Gardener programs in Minnesota, and programs on plant propagation and pruning and organic pest control since moving to North Carolina. He has written a training book for practitioners titled Pruning Young Elms; chapters in two books; and 22 papers in refereed journals. He earned his master’s degree in entomology and his doctorate in horticulture, both from the University of Georgia.

Words: Skye Allan, CLAS Student Communications Assistant
Image: Lynn Roberson, CLAS Communications Director