Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pat Holloway retires June 30

Pat Holloway poses in the botanical garden. UAF photo by Todd Paris
Horticulture Professor Pat Holloway officially retired from the university June 30, but it sounds like it it will be a working retirement — at least for now.

She will work half-time this summer with Washington State University researchers who are studying Botrytis, a type of gray mold that afflicts peonies, and thrips, a tiny insect that causes damages to peony flowers as they open. She plans to teach one-credit classes on plant propagation (campus) and wild and cultivated berries (distance) this fall and plant propagation in the spring. She is working on several other peony research projects and will continue to help the peony association if asked.

She does not want a traditional retirement.  “I can’t do that,” she said. “I’m not that kind of person.”

Pat with peonies at the garden. Photo by Cassie Galasso
Holloway began her association with the university in 1975 as a research aide for horticulturist Don Dinkel at the Agricultural Experiment Station. “He taught me how to drive my very first tractor,” she said. Holloway sought him out because they shared an interest in native plants.

She worked with Dinkel for three years before returning to school and earning a doctorate in horticulture at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation was on lingonberries. She returned to UAF in 1982.

Horticulturists who work for universities Outside tend to be much more specialized, she said. “In the Lower 48, you can spend your entire life working on garlic.”

Working as a horticulturist in Alaska requires being flexible and responding to needs and opportunities as they arise, she said.

One example is her work on antioxidants, which started after a study showed that blueberries Outside had high levels of antioxidants. “Our phones started ringing off the hook,” she said. People wanted to know how Alaska berries measured up.

Another example is her peony research, which began after she learned that peonies bloomed in Alaska in July, at a time they did not bloom elsewhere  — and that international buyers were interested.

She used Ted Stevens’ earmark money to buy 30 varieties of peonies and research which ones grew best. Variety trials began in 2001. Her work with peonies led to a specialization of a certain kind because, with the retirement of another horticulturist in Kansas, she became the sole peony researcher in North America. She now has peony contacts around the world.

Holloway is best known for developing the Georgeson Botanical Garden, which consisted of unnamed research plots when she started, and her work supporting the peony industry.

 “Pat’s the one who opened the door,” says Ron Illingworth, who, with his family, operates North Pole Peonies, the largest peony operation in the Interior.

Ron and his wife, Marjorie, are founding members of the Alaska Peony Growers Association and have almost 16,000 peonies planted. Illingworth said Holloway provided growers information on which varieties grew best and advice on how to grow them and manage pests. She has also brought up specialists to advise peony growers and to provide research.

Holloway plans to plant 500 peony plants at her home off Gilmore Trail. She does not plan to sell the flowers but would like to have them available for continuing research.

She does want to do more traveling, camping and hiking, which she enjoys. During a recent trip, she and her son encountered a Society of Martha Washington Festival in Laredo, Texas, which was unexpected and a great deal of fun. Quirky museums, local festivals and national parks will all be stops on her retirement travels.

Other retirement plans include writing books on propagation, Alaska native plants and historical gardens in Alaska. She would also like to study botanical illustration just for fun and to continue developing one-credit online courses for the horticulture industry and others who are interested.

Holloway will be recognized this fall with one of UAF’s highest honors, an Emil Usibelli Distinguished Service Award.

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