Longtime Azalea Garden botanist retiring

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A devoted botanist to SFA's Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden will soon be retiring. Barbara Stump nurtured thousands of plant specimans from the garden's very beginning 18 years ago.

Stump will never be "stumped" when it comes to recalling names of most every azalea in SFA's Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden.

"These are called Encore Azaleas named by the breeder's daughter because they did an encore in the fall," Stump said.

Just one of over 7,000 azalea plants and over 550 varieties, and that's not counting hundreds of other assorted plants. The knowledge comes with the job Stump has held since the garden idea sprouted 18 years ago.

"It's been real," Stump said. "It's been fun. Lots of times it's been real fun."

It was years of satisfaction for this former writer/editor who loved flowers.  She went back in midlife to obtain the appropriate degree for running a botanical garden. Stump's real garden tool for maintaining the beauty is the willingness to do everything from ordering or swapping plants to pulling weeds.

"And what's it meant to me?" Stump said. "It means my child. Hard to say. It's my heart. In the spring when we have floods of color I just have to laugh as I drive by because it makes me so happy."

The laughter replaced tears following the sudden death of her husband Thanksgiving weekend, 2010.

"This bench and another one here and another one in the Gayla Mize Garden were given by members of our Texas Chapter of the Azalea Society because they all knew Mike and he helped start the Texas chapter back up," Stump said.

Stump will continue to use the garden as a place of solace. Work becomes volunteerism. Expect Stump's azalea stories during April's Azalea Trail events.

An informal retirement reception will honor Stump on Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center on Raguet Street. Her friends and friends of the SFA gardens are encouraged to attend.

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