Magazine Feature

Campus garden is home to a tree planted by Lady Bird Johnson

tree planting

Then-DU Chancellor Chester Alter, former Chancellor Heber Harper, and Lady Bird Johnson plant a tree in DU’s Humanities Garden in 1965. Photo courtesy of DU Archives.

DU can give some credit for the abundance of thriving trees across campus to Lady Bird Johnson, who died July 11 at age 94.

Johnson’s desire to beautify the country started with her Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which filled the nation’s freeway roadsides with flowers. 

On Sept. 10, 1965, Johnson helped complete and dedicate DU’s Mary Reece Harper Humanities Garden by planting what would become the second largest pin oak tree on campus. 

During the dedication, Johnson remarked on the long-lasting beauty a garden could bring to DU’s campus.

“And I am glad to know that the American student of tomorrow is not doomed to cement campuses,” Johnson said, “but will have always this jewel of greenery, flowing water, and fountains set in the center of things.”

Accompanying Johnson on stage were her daughter, Lynda, then-University Chancellor Chester Alter and Heber Harper, a former DU chancellor who earlier that year had donated $100,000 for the creation of the garden, to be named for his mother, Mary Reece Harper. 

Alter said he hoped this would be the beginning stage of a beautiful campus setting.

“I am often asked when the garden will be completed. And the answer to that is of course, ‘Never I hope,’” Alter said. “For as a living garden it will grow and change and be enriched as from generation to generation planners and thinkers and caretakers come and go and make, and leave behind their contribution.”

Alter’s hope for the future has come true. DU arborist Marc Hathaway says there are more than 200 species and plant varieties across campus along with almost 2,000 trees. In 1999, the University’s commitment to its arboreal environment secured it a place among just a handful of officially designated university arboretums in the western U.S. The arboretum is named the Chester M Alter Arboretum in honor of the chancellor who served from 1953–67.

The tree Johnson planted is located by Evans Chapel and is identified by a plaque on the ground at its base.

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