In April, more than 20 students from the GeoSociety student organization gathered in front of Science and Research Building 1. Armed with shovels, they spent the day digging, planting and mulching the John C. Butler Memorial Planter.
The end result of the students’ hard work was an educational rock garden that honors Butler’s contributions to the University of Houston. Butler, a professor of geosciences who passed away in 2001, was dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) from 1989-1991, associate dean from 1985-1988 and 1991-2001, and chair of the Department of Geosciences form 1975-1985.
“The rock garden in its final form is more than I could have hoped for,” said Alex Cheney, a geology undergraduate and former GeoSociety president. Cheney, who graduated from UH in May, led the initiative, which received $500 from NSM’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute “Creating Communities” Mini-Grant Program. Grounds Supervisor David Banks facilitated the garden design, providing gravel, mulch and labor to clear out the planter.
The finished rock garden is a pleasing contrast between plant life and rock specimens. Running at a diagonal through the center of the garden is a mulched area containing drought-resistant plants, such as Mexican bush sage, Mexican feather grass and margarita yucca plants. On both sides of the plants are graveled areas, where assorted rocks of all types have been arranged.
“Every great geology department needs a rock garden,” said Paul Mann, professor of geology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and faculty advisor for this project. “The fact that the students stepped up and made this happen is great.”
The planter will be used as an educational tool to help introductory students learn to identify various types of rocks. The rock garden includes igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary samples, as well as an Inoceramus (bivalve) fossil.
These rocks were donated by faculty or brought back from the UH summer geology undergraduate field camp at the Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association Geology Field Station in southwestern Montana. Over time, as students and faculty return from various field trips, more rocks of every imaginable type will be added.
“Next year I’ll be heading to field camp in Montana; I’m hoping to bring a rock back for the garden,” said Sabrina Martinez, a junior majoring in geology and the current vice president of GeoSociety.
“Future students will be able to contribute samples that will serve as a small personal legacy, as well as help educate the next generation of geoscientists. I believe Dr. Butler would have been proud of this planter,” Cheney said.
Sue Butler, his widow and associate director of public affairs at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, remembers Butler’s fondness for the plaza.
“He used to give finals out there, parking himself on the planter’s edge with a cardboard box that had numerous strings dangling out of it. Students had to choose a string and tell him everything they knew about the rock they found at the other end,” she said. “He would indeed be proud of this effort.”
Rachel Fairbank, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics