An Interview with Martin Quigley: New Executive Director of the Arboretum

May 31, 2016

By Linda Lane 

Martin Quigley, initially hired in November 2015 as Director of Gardens and Grounds, is the new Executive Director of the Arboretum. He came to Santa Cruz from the University of Denver, where he was a professor of botany and Director of the Chester M. Alter Arboretum. Quigley holds a B.A. in English and comparative literature from Cornell University, an MLA in landscape architecture from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. in ecology from Louisiana State University.  

Q: What brought you to Santa Cruz?

I never forgot a visit to Santa Cruz and the Arboretum over 25 years ago, so, when the Director of Gardens/Grounds position appeared, I immediately applied. Also, as an empty nester, I was "done" with Denver, and UCSC was a perfect match: my dissertation focused on global plant communities and the Arboretum offers a collection of plants from Mediterranean climates around the world. 

Q: How does the UCSC Arboretum differ from the Denver Arboretum?

Denver's arboretum has a definite urban flavor: the grounds are contiguous throughout the campus and that translates to acres of finely manicured lawns and "standard" plantings along side the specialty gardens. The Arboretum here is more contained yet more wild: the gardens showcase the "au natural" settings of diverse global plants. 

Q: Do you have a favorite plant/garden?

I guess I could say the "underrepresented" Chilean garden is my favorite; it's practically non-existent, but I plan to change that by building and expanding it, thus allowing it to compete more fairly with the other established gardens.   

Q: As Executive Director, what are your duties?

Unlike at Denver, at UCSC I won't be teaching, so I'll have more time to devote to the gardens (the position of Director of Gardens/Grounds has merged with the Executive Director job). The primary responsibility of the Executive Director is to supervise the "inner" workings of the Arboretum: the curators (outdoor staff), the administrative and volunteer staff, and Norrie's Gift Shop operations. In addition, the Executive Director is the "outer" public face of the arboretum, the person who most directly interacts with UCSC colleagues and outside communities, both local and national. Also, the Executive Director, as the scientific face of the Arboretum, can promote and involve the Arboretum in UCSC research and philanthropic grants and proposals. 

Q: Do you have any "first days in office" goals/plans for the Arboretum?

Yes, I have four top priorities:

#1 is to complete the entry renovation, finish the new front door and advance its "message" to the public: the Arboretum is a unique yet embedded part of UCSC; it's both part and apart from the campus-- so come on in and take a look!

 #2 is to promote more research at and educational involvement in the Arboretum. To that end, I plan to encourage more faculty to use the gardens as part of their curriculum and programs, especially in the humanities areas. Rather than waiting for faculty to approach the Arboretum on what they might do here, I plan to be proactive by developing a structured format of "here's what the arboretum can offer you/your students" and distribute this information to both UCSC and local educational institutions, e.g., Cabrillo, other community colleges, and technical schools.

 #3 is to create a new series of "casual" public events. As a possible example, host "Third Thursdays," a once a month music and wine party or offer a short program, such as a lecture by a UCSC faculty member/alumni, book talk, poetry reading, or feature a "plant-of-the-month." 

 #4 is to move the Arboretum beyond "breaking-even" financially; I'd definitely like to see it grow "greener" so as to be able to hire more staff who then can provide more services and events to UCSC and the public.

 Q: What is your leadership style? What three words best describe you?

I see myself as a facilitator, not a legislator. The three words I'd choose to express my approach would be "inclusive," (listen to and involve others); "decisive," (let's get it done!) and "imaginative" (how else can it be done?).

 Martin Quigley can be reached at, 831.502.2314.