Professor in the Department of Horticulture
Graduate Program Coordinator for the College of Agriculture
Gary Keever has been at Auburn for nearly 30 years as a researcher and professor of horticulture. He is an integral part of the university's task force that is working to save Toomer's Oaks.
1. How did you become interested in horticulture?
I grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a small town just south of Charlotte, North Carolina. While I was growing up we had a family garden, and at an early age I started mowing lawns for people in the neighborhood. During the spring when I ride my bicycle through neighborhoods, I often smell newly mowed lawns and am reminded of those childhood memories. After high school, I enrolled in pre-engineering at the University of South Carolina and later switched to business accounting. While visiting a friend of mine at Clemson, who was majoring in horticulture, we started talking about what he was learning and what a degree in horticulture prepared him to do, and I thought this is for me. I applied to Clemson and started agriculture school in the summer of 1977. After receiving my Bachelor's degree, I attended graduate school at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y. where I was exposed to outstanding academic programs, a worldly campus and a beautiful region of the country. After five seven-month, sunless winters in upstate New York, I jumped at the chance to interview at Auburn, even though I had never been to Alabama. It was August and it was extremely hot and muggy, but it felt good. I was glad to get back to the Southeast. I've been here a little over 29 years, since January of 1982.
2. What's your favorite thing about Auburn?
I really like the small town feel coupled with the national and international atmosphere afforded by living in a university town. As an avid cyclist, I know that I'm never far from smoothly paved, lightly-trafficked roads. It's a great feeling to get away from the hustle and bustle. As a faculty member in horticulture, I have been given tremendous freedom in teaching and conducting research, and numerous opportunities for professional growth. I don't think I could have found a better department to work in.
3. What does your day-to-day teaching and research involve?
I began at Auburn teaching landscape gardening, and later developed courses in intermediate and advanced landscape design. I continue to teach the course in advanced landscape design, as well as graduate seminar, and I'm also the graduate program officer which allows me to work closely with graduate applicants and students. The advanced landscape design course is a professional elective for upper-level students. In this course, students gain practical experience applying the principles that they learn in intermediate design to real life situations.Our final project last fall was the new OIT Building and adjacent Multimodal Transportation Center. Our clients were Jeffrey Dumars in University Planning and Charlie Crawford, Superintendent of Landscape Services. The two buildings were under construction which required the students to work from building and site design drawings. The students also interviewed Jeffrey and Charlie to better understand how the buildings fit into the University's Master Plan and the process Landscape Services used in designing and installing new landscapes on campus. Based on the students' designs, the University Architect modified the scope of the construction project to include additional walks, and Landscape Services has multiple landscape designs from which to garnish design options. The student's enthusiasm over making a difference in an actual project was just overwhelming. As Charlie works through the landscape installation process, he will refer back to the students' designs and weigh the merits of a number of their proposals. It's this connection of theory to application, and being able to see your work have a direct impact on the university and all of the people that use the space, that is tremendously rewarding to me.
4. You mentioned your biking. What other interests do you have outside of your research?
I began running my first day at Clemson and continued for 25 years until I had worn out too many body parts; hence, the low-impact cycling. As a horticulturist, I practice what I preach. My wife and I live on four acres. When we built in 1994, my wife wanted to be close in and I wanted outdoor space to garden. If you interviewed her, she'd say I was married to the yard for years! Gardening is a passion of mine.
5. You've been in Auburn nearly 30 years. What has the response to the poisoning of the Toomer's Oaks shown you about the Auburn people and the Auburn spirit?
Currently on the Auburn homepage, there's a feature story on Auburn University's Tree Campus USA status. This is a program that we have worked closely with. It's a national certification program, offered through the Arbor Day Foundation, that Auburn University first acquired in 2009. We were re-certified in 2010. We're working with a graduate student in forestry, who has inventoried the entire campus and, as a part of that inventory, has been able to generate the value of trees on campus. The Toomer's Oaks collectively may have a value of $20,000. This is simply based on the species, the location, the size and the health. But you can't put a true dollar value on the Toomer's Oaks. They have been a part of Auburn University for 130 years, impacting generations of Auburn students and fans. You look at the shrines at Toomer’s Corner today, the website chatter and blogs, and you look at my inbox and you'll quickly get the idea that these trees are not $20,000 trees. Their value is immeasurable.