Skip to content

DPA grounds director envisions beauty, diversity

DPA grounds director envisions beauty, diversity
DPA grounds director envisions beauty, diversity | DPA grounds director envisions beauty, diversity

John Watkins
Special Features Editor
If Discovery Park of America grounds director John Watkins realizes his dream, large numbers of visitors will come to the 50-acre, multi-million dollar educational and entertainment complex under construction in Union City just to see the diversity and beauty of the grounds.
While there will be even more to delight locals and travelers once they are on site, the beautiful surroundings for Discovery Center and the many other structures there will undoubtedly impress even those who have not thought of themselves as “gardens fans.”
Watkins, who makes his home in Paris, is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in plant and soil science. He has since added a master’s degree in ornamental horticulture and landscape design from UT Knoxville.
He has gained experience as the estate manager for a historic private estate near Williamsburg, Va., and has worked as horticulturist for Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum, a public garden, in Rome, Ga. While living in Georgia, he also taught in the horticulture department at Berry College in Rome and was horticulturist for the school. Rounding out his resumé is a stint as landscape designer and contractor for Rolling Hills Nursery in Murray, Ky.
He has been in his new job at DPA since March and is excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of the project. His job responsibilities include the maintenance of all grounds, grounds equipment and irrigation; the development of horticultural programs and events; the production and installation of seasonal plantings; and the management of grounds staff and interns.
“Seeing the plantings and gardens mature over time will be rewarding in itself, but the prospect of constantly developing and implementing new projects on the grounds and interacting with our guests is probably the most exciting aspect of my position,” he says.
DPA is, according to Watkins, unlike any project he has ever worked with, and he plans to take advantage of the opportunity to produce and install an ever-changing display of color and points of interest in the gardens so that each trip someone makes to the park will be a new experience.
“I think the greatest challenge associated with my job as grounds director will be maintaining the highest level of interest for our visitors in our garden displays. While the day-to-day maintenance is no easy feat in itself, I want our gardens here to change continually so that a visitor’s experience is never the same twice,” says Watkins.
Viewing the sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic changes planned in the DPA landscape will make membership in the facility a real bargain in itself, according to a spokesman. In addition, the three specialty gardens — a Japanese garden, a European garden and an American garden – plus the beautiful and interesting features of the general area that has been farmland for years, are sure to provide the perfect background for everything from casual personal photos to large crowd-pleasing special events planned for the complex.
Watkins will not be content with merely satisfying the senses, however. He wants guests at DPA to have the opportunity to learn as much from his area of specialty as they will from viewing dinosaurs inside Discovery Center or watching the grist mill work.
“Developing educational and informative programs for our guests is a high priority,” he says.
Watkins and his wife, Leigh, are the parents of Alex, 14, and Austin, 12. He is the son of Pat and Phillip Watkins of Martin and the grandson of the late Oscar and Mildred Watkins, who lived in Rives, so he has roots in this area that make coming home a special joy.
He has been a member of several professional organizations, such as American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta and the Professional Grounds Management Society.
He is the garden editor for Paris! Magazine, a quarterly publication, and has penned articles online for several sources.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle@
Published in The Messenger 5.22.13

Leave a Comment