Suzzanne Tate has always enjoyed nurturing all kinds of plants.
Now, as greenhouse supervisor for the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, the plants she nurtures serve an important purpose for UGA researchers.
“One of the things I love about horticulture and plant science is that there is always something new to learn,” she said. “There’s always a new plant to grow. There’s always something else to figure out about how these plants work.”
This wasn’t the career path Tate expected, but she embraced the opportunities that came her way. Her bachelor’s degree from James Madison University is in biology with a plant science concentration. She later earned a master’s degree in horticulture from UGA.
Before coming to Warnell, Tate worked in the Horticulture Department’s ornamental plant breeding program on the research farm in Watkinsville and then in the vegetable breeding program. Prior to that, she spent eight years working at the State Botanical Garden as a curator for the Shade Garden and Native Floral Garden. That’s also where she met her husband when he was working there as a horticulturist.
“The people at Warnell are down to earth, welcoming and fun,” she said. “I felt at home right away when I joined Warnell.”
Tate’s position at Warnell provided an opportunity to use what she already knew about plants but learn something new about caring for greenhouses. She was ready to take on the challenge of overseeing such a big and complex system.
Right now, six principal investigators have ongoing projects in the Warnell greenhouses. The biggest of those is C.J. Tsai’s research on the metabolism of poplar trees. Another project is Scott Merkle’s research on chestnut trees. Additionally, Heather Gladfelter, Merkle’s postdoctoral associate, is conducting research on Franklinia. Dan Johnson’s research centers on the effects of fire and drought on pine trees. Rebecca Abney is studying how biochar works as a soil amendment. A new project was just started by Caterina Villari investigating a new disease of native beech trees called bumpy beech.
“The scientists at Warnell are doing interesting and important research that is internationally recognized, and I’m very proud to be a part of this work,” Tate said.
Because she’s not on the main campus—the greenhouses are located at Whitehall Forest past the end of Milledge Avenue—communication takes a concerted effort. Tate makes a point to stay in touch frequently so that she knows the specifics of each project. When each project starts, she meets with the researchers to talk through the purpose and objectives of the project, the timeline of the research, who is working on the project and what kind of space they need. Her main charge is to keep the plants alive and healthy, but it could be as detailed as giving plants a certain amount of light for a certain number of hours at a specific temperature.
“I’m their technical and logistical support,” she said. “I’m here to help them solve any horticultural problems.”
Facilities management makes up a large part of Tate’s job. She oversees the two main greenhouses, three smaller greenhouses, a nursery that’s an acre and a half, and a shade house. She’s also responsible for pest control and general safety in the greenhouses.
The greenhouses need attention every day, and Tate works with two students to take care of them. Her days typically start early with a walk through the facilities before going through emails and the day’s to-do list. She checks the greenhouses again before she leaves.
“I am constantly impressed with the caliber of students—both undergraduate and graduate—that Warnell attracts,” she said.
Tate said she enjoys working with everyone who uses the greenhouses, but what she enjoys most is seeing the plants change and grow.
Gardening for pleasure is a big part of her life outside of work. Her family also keeps a vegetable garden—Tate is partial to tomatoes fresh from her vines.
Whether the garden is her own or on UGA property, Tate is always happy to care for it.
“We are in a support role to help researchers get the job done,” she said, “and I enjoy that.”