University horticulturalist planting a better community
by Marguerite Cline
Columnist
July 18, 2013 11:45 PM | 989 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Probably no one is having more fun than Zach White. He is the horticulturist at Reinhardt University in Waleska. Zach and his wife, Loretta, a pharmacist, live in Pickens County.

He is one of those people with a proverbial green thumb and uses it well.

Anyone who goes on the campus or just drives by knows he and his staff are doing their jobs well. Beautiful flowers, shrubs, trees and manicured lawns are everywhere.

On the day Zach came from his home in Lilburn to Reinhardt, a man was in front of Cline’s Store. The man waved. Zach knew he would like a small town where people waved at others whether they knew them or not.

When he enrolled in college, Zach had not decided what his life’s work would be. Then he met Cecil and Ann Atchley. They were in charge of the grounds and greenhouses at Reinhardt.

He was working with them when he recognized he was blessed with that green thumb. Not only did he like growing and working with plants, he was good at it. So, after two years at Reinhardt, he was off to the University of Georgia to study horticulture.

One of the things horticulture students must learn is the genus and species of plants. They are usually Latin words. Zach says he speaks “redneck Latin.”

After graduating from UGA, he worked at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in the children’s area before coming to Reinhardt.

Zach and Elizabeth Smith, a teacher at Reinhardt, had an idea. Waleska should have a farmers market. They wanted to encourage people to eat healthy food and shop locally. Plus, they wanted the people of the community and those at Reinhardt to mix and mingle.

When Zach gets an idea, he runs with it. He was on a mission. Banners were made, signs were put out and vendors were recruited. It was an immediate success.

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables is the number one reason customers come. But they also come for the fun events.

Zach is fun-loving. One market day, he had a putt-putt competition. The winner won a watermelon, a bird house and $20 in “market money.”

The pie-baking contest was popular, too. One of the things customers liked was that after the pies were judged, the crowd was invited to “clean the plates.” They ate pie until they ran out.

Upcoming is the Salsa Challenge on Aug. 1 from 4:15 to 7:30 p.m. To get there, come to Waleska and just follow the signs. After the salsa is judged, the crowd will again “clean the plates.”

Dr. J. R. Burgess was president of Reinhardt for 28 years. In addition to his presidential duties, he planted 550 trees and 800 shrubs on the campus.

Wherever he was, Dr. Burgess was getting trees to plant or transplant to Reinhardt. It was not unusual to see him going across campus, even after he retired, with a shovel in one hand and a seedling in the other.

The “Fortson Oak” is named for then-Georgia Secretary of State Ben Fortson. It grew from an acorn taken from the state Capitol grounds.

Other trees have their own story. In 1972, a paper bark maple and a trident maple came from the campus of Harvard University. Zach says it is a piece of Harvard at Reinhardt.

As Dr. Burgess planted the trees and shrubs he put identification tags on many of them. The area where he planted many of the trees and shrubs is called the Burgess Arboretum. Recently, it has been upgraded. The names of many of the trees on campus are catalogued, mapped and old tags have been replaced.

While the age of many of the trees on the campus is not known, one is identified as a pecan tree planted by the Class of 1914. That means it is almost 100 years old.

There may be others on campus that are older than that.

Zach is a wonderful, down-to-earth person. Dr. Burgess would be pleased to know that the trees and shrubs he planted are in Zach’s capable hands.

He likes people and people like him. So, come to the Waleska Farmers Market and meet him yourself. Just follow the signs. You will be glad you did. Or he will welcome your call at (770) 720-5988.

You might talk to him about gardening. People often ask him for advice such as what plants deer are least likely to eat.

And, if you were the man who waved at Zach White on the day he first came to Waleska, I want to say, “Thank you very much. You did the whole town and the college a favor.”

Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.
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