Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture celebrates 25th Anniversary

Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture founder John Collins during the early days of the programs.

Twenty-Five years ago, John F. Collins, FASLA, and a dedicated group of faculty built on 75 years of environmental education offered at Temple University Ambler to create prestigious four-year programs in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture that have generated dedicated leaders in every field of the green industry.

In practice with his own landscape architecture and environmental planning firm for 25 years prior to coming to Temple, Collins “needed some soldiers,” in the battle to preserve the environment.

“I wanted students that would look at nature, not pave over it. The thing that really excited me was the potential combination of horticulture and landscape architecture,” said Collins in an interview during the 40th anniversary of Ambler as a campus of Temple. “Nationally they had been growing further and further apart. I can’t separate the two. I don’t see them as isolated entities.”

That philosophy continues to this day as Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture graduates its 25th class of landscape architect students and celebrates the 25th anniversary of the four-year bachelor’s programs in horticulture and landscape architecture.

On Sunday, May 18, the Department invites all students, faculty, staff and alumni for a picnic in the Louise Bush-Brown Formal Perennial Gardens to celebrate the anniversary from 1 to 5 p.m.

“We want to bring back alumni and former faculty to commemorate our history and share their memories of how the program has evolved over the past 25 years. In those early years, we began with a strong academic green mission — how could we have a positive social impact?” said Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Chair Pauline Hurley-Kurtz, who came to Temple in 1990. “As we’ve continued to develop the programs and added the Master of Landscape Architecture, with its focus on ecological restoration, that is a theme that has continued throughout the program to the present day. I think that’s something our students have carried with them into their professional lives.”

The May 18 event will begin with a Memorial Tree Dedication at 1 p.m. on the Dixon Hall Terrace for Hans A. Zutter, a member of the Horticulture faculty from 1957 to 1995, and Stuart D. Appel, a member of the Landscape Architecture faculty from 2006 to 2012.  

The program will continue in Bright Hall Lounge with a welcome, exploration of the past 25 years and faculty dedication. Participants will then be invited to adjourn to the gardens for a picnic celebration including shared memories, music, garden tours, children’s activities and exhibits of work by students and department founder John Collins.

“It’s a chance for everyone — students, alumni, faculty, staff and longtime supports — to pause and reflect on what has come before as we prepare for our next 25 years,” said Hurley-Kurtz. “We want to build on our strengths, attract the best students and help them Fly in 4’ and build on our excellent base of faculty in fields that are only growing — green infrastructure, urban landscapes, ecological restoration — and becoming more important.”

Interested in sharing your memories on the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Memory Board? Send stories, photos, articles and other memorabilia to the department in Dixon Hall. RSVP for the event to or 267-468-8175.

In the Beginning

According to Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Baldev Lamba, who joined the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture just a year after it was established, “the department had a rough and gritty quality of a busy workshop or a farm with lots of action, energy and a sense of mission for the department and the larger profession that was infectious and inspirational.”

“For (Collins), who was the founder of Delta Group, the well-known multidisciplinary firm in Philadelphia, the department was an extension of his practice. It followed the practitioner/teacher model. A designer at heart, John was dedicated to improving the quality of cities, suburbs and beyond based on the ecological and regional characteristics of the site and the community,” he said. “He believed in teaching and leading by example and personal experiences. He was a man of action who captured and created opportunities to improve the quality of the campus. His footprints and hands are evident everywhere on the campus.”

Under Collins’ leadership, the department advanced in academic standards, achieving accreditation for the landscape architecture program; hired new faculty; and reached out to the community with urban design-build programs. In the first year that bachelor’s degree programs were offered in the two disciplines, the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs took home a “Best of Show” award from the Philadelphia Flower Show, an achievement the department has repeated numerous times since.

“I think the design-build aspect of the programs at Ambler is critical — you need to develop respect for the landscape. I don’t see how you can attempt to design something without the knowledge and training necessary to actually construct it,” said Collins when a retrospective of his work was established in the Ambler Campus Learning Center. “Construction is a continuation of the artistic process — I don’t distinguish between hardscape aspects such as pavement, walls and built elements and the organic aspects of plants and soil. The boundaries between disciplines should be blurred, with design intermingled with construction, landscape architecture, planning and horticulture.”

Lamba said Collins’ “enduring vision of hands-on education is integral to the identity of the programs and students.”

“He was a pioneer and a tireless advocate for the use of native plants in the landscape — this was reflected in the establishment of a Native Plant Nursery on campus, built by him along with the faculty and students. He was extremely resourceful and persuasive in finding unconventional ways and means of accomplishing his mission,” he said. “In celebrating our 25th year, I do think there is a lot of truth to the sayings ‘You can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been.’ or ‘Look back to where you have been for a clue to where you are going.’ I think it is in reflecting back that we truly understand and appreciate the value of what has transpired. This can be a great source of knowledge, wisdom and inspiration.”