UTK alumnus revamps UTC greenhouse with help from former professor
Joey Shaw, assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences at UT Chattanooga, began work at UTC in 2005 and found the Holt Hall Greenhouse in shambles. It was meant for teaching and research, but it was nonfunctional.
“When I came down to Chattanooga, it was a shock for me,” Shaw says. “The greenhouse was being used as a storage shed. It had asbestos and fewer than five living plants. It took me a couple of years to renovate it because I had to literally start from scratch.”
Armed with a grant from UTC to improve the Holt Hall Greenhouse, Shaw set out to make it a learning tool for students and a suitable teaching environment for professors.
Remembering the vast array of plants the Fred Norris Greenhouse in Knoxville held, Shaw went to his former professor and friend Ken McFarland, lecturer in biology and organizer of the Wildflower Pilgrimage, for help.
“He was very willing to help me stock the greenhouse to facilitate all the classes here,” Shaw says. “Greenhouses trade specimens like trading baseball cards, but we didn’t have anything to give to him. It was a truly generous act by him and his colleagues.”
McFarland donated a variety of plants, some from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Shaw and McFarland agree that many of the plants exhibit unique characteristics vital for teaching students and conducting research.
After more than 35 years at UT Knoxville McFarland has helped many universities start their own greenhouse programs, among them, Appalachian State, Eastern Kentucky, and Austin Peay. McFarland also takes demonstrations to local elementary schools and usually leaves a plant behind.
“It’s kind of a public service to local schools and universities,” McFarland says. “We enjoy showing kids how plants can influence their world.”
McFarland’s donation of 55 potted plants and numerous cuttings from other plants jumpstarted UTC’s program, which now benefits more than 100 students each semester and many faculty members who use the greenhouse for research and teaching.
“Ken was the primary reason the greenhouse looks green from the outside now,” Shaw says. “We now have plants to show our students; before, we had to get pictures online and project them. It makes classes more interactive and learning so much more interesting.”