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College of Environment and Design

Debbie Mitchell Joins UGA CED as Curator of the Founders Memorial Garden

Aerial photograph - FMG

Visitors to the Founders Memorial Garden have noticed a remarkable transformation in recent months. In June, the UGA College of Environment + Design hired a new garden curator, Dr. Debbie Mitchell who has been working diligently to rejuvenate the garden and reveal many of its historic qualities. In addition to serving as Curator of the Founders Memorial Garden, Debbie serves as an instructor, bringing more than twenty years of experience as an environmental educator, classroom science teacher and professional gardener to the CED.

Dr. Debbie MitchellPrior to joining the College of Environment + Design, Dr. Mitchell served as education coordinator and curator at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, as well as an AmeriCorps VISTA and secondary science teacher with the Clarke County School District. Growing up in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina, Debbie attended programs at Reynolda Gardens and Old Salem that sparked an interest in historic sites. This interest continued with summer employment in Williamsburg, Virginia while completing a pre-med biology undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Upon graduation, Debbie ventured to various parts of the United States, exploring national parks and gaining diverse work experiences in the field of science, including positions as a veterinary technician, a marine laboratory assistant, and in water quality research. Debbie earned both her master’s degree and PhD in Science Education from the Mary Frances Early College of Education at UGA. Her doctoral research focused on the pragmatism of school gardens—specifically, on how experiential learning in the outdoors can merge scientific understanding with environmental stewardship and social justice.

Since June, Debbie and her team of students have devoted uncounted hours to pruning, weeding, and attending to minute details of the garden, bringing to life the historic fabric of this important cultural landscape. Containing more than 300 species of plant material, the Founders Memorial Garden commemorates the twelve founders of the American garden club movement which was established in Athens in 1891 by the Ladies’ Garden Club; the site is also dedicated as a memorial to those who have served in the US Armed Forces. The present garden was conceived, designed, and installed under the guidance of Hubert Bond Owens in 1939, the founder and first director of the UGA landscape architecture program. Today, the 2.5-acre site and associated historic buildings are managed by the College of Environment and Design and serves as a teaching resource and public garden for the campus and the city of Athens.

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