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Horticulture program at Spartanburg Community College continues to blossom

It started in the early 1970s as an agricultural program focused primarily on peach production. Evolving with the Upstate economy, today’s horticulture program at Spartanburg Community College targets the ornamental side of the industry teaching everything from trees and turfgrass to farm-to-table and sustainable growing.

Offering the only Associates degree in horticulture in the Upstate, SCC’s Central Campus also boasts one of five recognized arboretums in Spartanburg County, giving students a hands-on teaching environment to prepare them for the world of work.

Outdoor teaching lab

“Spartanburg is unique,” said SCC Arboretum Director Kevin Parris. “We have five institutions that have collections of trees that we promote to the community for education and enjoyment. You have to go to larger metro areas like Philadelphia or the Triad area of North Carolina to find the density of gardens open to the public like we have here.”

Every tree planted on SCC’s Central Campus in the past 25 years has been placed with forethought of how it can benefit student instruction, Parris explained.

“For about 25 of the 49 years that the horticulture program has been here, every time there has been an opportunity on campus to improve it, we’ve been involved so that we could design the grounds as an outdoor teaching laboratory,” Parris said.

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Students have input into the design, with the specialty and horticulture gardens on SCC’s Central Campus managed entirely by students. Grades reflect teamwork and the performance of the garden areas.

“We have graduates who regularly return to campus to see the gardens and plantings they helped design and maintain,” Parris said. “They bring their spouses and children. They’re proud of what they accomplished during their time here.”

Real-world instruction

Students enrolled in SCC’s horticulture program benefit from the real-world experience of their three full-time instructors. They met while students at Clemson, with Parris and classmates Jason Bagwell and Jay Moore taking varying industry paths after graduation.

Bagwell, who serves as department chair, worked in the wholesale greenhouse industry for 15 years. Parris was a plant propagator for Gilbert’s Nursery, then founded his own landscape design and installation company. Moore served as an extension agent and was the owner of Carolina Garden World in Spartanburg from 1996 until 2016.

All natives of Spartanburg, the Clemson classmates eventually made their way back home to develop a horticulture program they wish they had been able to take advantage of as college freshmen.

“I grew up in Spartanburg and graduated from Boiling Springs High School, but I never knew this program existed,” Bagwell said. “I’ve been here for 19 years and I tell every student that I wish I had come here first.”

Graduates in demand

SCC’s horticulture program presently has around 60 students, but the program can accommodate and place more.

“Horticulture is an enjoyable and rewarding career,” Bagwell said. “You’re dealing with plantings that will last for an extended period of time, offering health and environmental benefits.”

SCC’s horticulture program receives ongoing requests from potential employers across the state and even regionally, with jobs readily available in a variety of areas including commercial and residential landscaping, sports turf and golf course management, botanical garden maintenance, sales and marketing, and wholesale and retail garden centers. And with five recognized arboretums – SCC, Hatcher Garden, USC Upstate, Milliken & Company and Wofford College – and several colleges and universities in the area, many SCC horticulture graduates also can find employment closer to home.

“Our graduates take care of the grounds of most of the academic institutions in town,” Parris added.

Arboretum Adventures

Shortly after finishing at Clemson, Parris began teaching classes at SCC – first as an adjunct instructor and now as arboretum director.

“That’s why the arboretum is so important to me,” Parris explains. “Every year for almost 30 years now, I’ve been given an opportunity to think through what we could add to campus to give this program a greater ability to teach students.”

To further aid instruction, Parris spent this summer pinpointing approximately 700 trees on the SCC campus, recording their species, ages and sizes for a virtual tour that will be available at Plantsmap.com. The tool can be used by students and those in the community with an interest in trees and gardens.

The community also is invited to attend SCC’s Arboretum Adventures, an annual event that features a regionally recognized authority on horticulture. This year’s presenter is foodscaping visionary Brie Arthur, vice president of horticulture at Gardenuity, a direct-to-consumer on-line gardening company, and author of The Foodscape Revolution. Proceeds from the event benefit the Jimmy Painter Horticulture Scholarship administered by the Spartanburg Community College Foundation.

“The event started as an update of our own adventures,” Parris said. “Now we have people who contact us to come see our arboretum and speak to our students.”

Evolution continues

Along with Arthur’s presentation on foodscaping, SCC’s horticulture program this fall will offer an edible landscape class for the first time.

From peaches to ornamental horticulture to today’s sustainable agriculture, SCC’s horticulture program continues its evolution.

For more information on the horticulture program at Spartanburg Community College, click here.

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