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UT Gardens Dedicates New "Friendship Plaza"In its 25-year existence, the UT Gardens had a little bit of everything – stunning flowers, beautiful and exotic plants, even ornate artwork and sculpture. What it did not have was an easily accessible and welcoming entrance.

Until now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008 from 1 to 3 p.m., the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture will dedicate its new "Friendship Plaza" at the entrance to the Gardens. The event will include a dedication ceremony, self-guided sculpture tours of the gardens, classical and bluegrass music, putting on a turfgrass green, herbal tea and cookies in the herbal garden, and fun activities for children. The public is invited.

The "Friendship Plaza" features a curved wall inscribed with names of Silver Anniversary donors, many of whom are "Friends of the Gardens" – a volunteer organization that has supported the UT Gardens for much of its history.

2008 marks the Silver Anniversary of the UT Gardens, and the anniversary committee is headed by honorary co-chairs Dr. Joe Johnson, UT President Emeritus, and Mrs. Deborah DiPietro, spouse of Dr. Joe DiPietro, Vice President for Agriculture at UT. Posey Congleton of Knoxville is serving as the "Silver Anniversary Coordinator for the ‘Friends,’" and is also involved in the planning of this event.

Friends of the Gardens’ collected and donated more than $150,000 for the Plaza project. The "Friendship Plaza" also includes a more functional bricked entranceway and gathering place that could host special events. The project took about two years to complete, and more than 100 volunteers, business people and university staff were involved.

"The Gardens didn’t really have a gathering place that worked well for outdoor events, so the ‘Friends’ provided this generous gift for the construction," says Dr. DiPietro. "We are so very grateful for their support over the years, and will recognize some of the key leadership gifts associated with that effort."

"It really has turned the entrance into much more of an inviting atmosphere for the gardens," says Mary Collins Shepherd with ‘Friends.’ "We did feel we needed more of a destination and not just a place that one walks through. We were able to solicit some incredible donations from companies around town and we were able to build this incredible plaza."

East Tennessee gardeners like to point out that you can’t spell beaUTiful without a "U" and a "T." This blooming treasure along the banks of the Tennessee River remains one of the nation’s prettiest science labs. The UT Gardens are part of the East Tennessee AgResearch Center, where some 4,000 flowers, plants, trees, vegetables and grasses are evaluated each year. The Gardens’ primary mission is research, but it also is a beautiful place for the people of Knoxville to stop and enjoy. Curators say the new plaza will only add to the experience for all who visit.

"This is the defining moment of the Gardens’ 25th Anniversary," says Dr. Sue Hamilton, Interim Director of the Gardens and a UT Professor in Plant Sciences. "It’s with great appreciation that I thank the ‘Friends’ for their commitment and support."

For more info call 974-7367 or e-mail cmdenney@utk.edu.