Bob Grese is Director of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum and professor and the Theodore Roosevelt Chair of Ecosystem Management in the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment (SNRE). His teaching and research involve ecologically-based landscape design and management that respects the cultural and natural history of a region.

The SNRE publishes a monthly e-news that includes a Q&A in which faculty answer questions posed to them by alumni and friends. Here is this month’s Q&A with Bob.

Above: Bob Grese. Photo by Dave Brenner.

1. What is the first step in changing residential traditional landscapes that require supplemental irrigation to sustainable landscapes that survive off of normal yearly rainfall? – Chris Charles MLA ’04
First, I think it’s important to get to know what grows naturally in the region. Find some local natural areas that could serve as a model for idealizing in a smaller residential yard.
2. Who have been some of your biggest influences in shaping your ideas on sustainability? Any books or authors you’d recommend? – Grace McGinnis MS ’16
I’ve spent much of my career studying the work of late 19th and early 20th century designers who took their cues from nature, especially Jens Jensen and O.C. Simonds. I’d be remiss not to mention them and their writings. The writings of Nan Fairbrother and May Thielgaard Watts influenced me to go into landscape architecture. All of these people wrote about sustainability before it had a name.
3. What is your favorite place at the Arb or Matthaei and what changes are you most proud of there since becoming Director? – Jan Mueller MLA ’93
Over the years, the prairie in Dow Field has become a special place for me, especially in the fall when the grasses are full height and wave in the wind. What am I most proud of? Mostly that I see so many people enjoying these places and connecting with nature. That makes all the work we’ve done worthwhile.
4. What keeps you up at night?
Very little. I fall asleep almost immediately
5. What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Just after graduation from high school, I took the train up to Montana and worked in Glacier National Park as a busboy in one of the restaurants in the park. For a kid who’d never been north or west of Missouri, it was a true adventure and opened my eyes to the Rockies. I was away from home from June until Thanksgiving break my freshman year. I’m not sure my folks appreciated me being gone so long for my first time away.
6. If you could relive one SNRE experience what would it be?
I loved the old Paul Bunyan Balls.  They were such an active, joyful time!
7. If you could live in a different time period what time period would you live in?
I would have loved to see the oak openings of Washtenaw and Oakland County before they were changed by European settlers. Similarly, I would have loved to see the San Francisco Bay area.
8. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I always thought I would be an architect.  I got a set of Lego bricks somewhere around 3rd or 4thgrade and built some pretty mean houses.  I actually studied architecture my first two years of college but transferred to landscape architecture in my junior year. 
9. What was the first concert you attended?
I have vivid memories of music associated with outdoor church gatherings growing up—specifically Easter sunrises services my father (who was a minister) held on Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga. I also remember a church picnic where some of my classmates’ parents brought out a base fiddle and regular fiddle and began to play old-time music. Somehow music and the outdoors seemed so natural.  When I was in high school in Memphis, I went to a number of concerts by music groups popular in the early 70s, but the most memorable concert was one at my high school where a classmate mesmerized us all with her magical rendition of “The St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy. I’ve never heard anyone else sing it as well.
10. What is your favorite dessert?
Ice cream. Going to University of Wisconsin for graduate school was particularly dangerous for me.  I hung out a lot at the dairy store there.
Bonus Questions
What is your favorite outdoor activity? 
Gardening. I love watching things grow.
What is your favorite movie? 
To Kill a Mockingbird.
Describe your first job. 
Raking leaves.  My dad offered to pay me 5¢/wheelbarrow full, and I must have raked at least a hundred loads of leaves.  I don’t think I was ever paid, so maybe it doesn’t really count as my first job. 
What is the best award you’ve ever received?
At my junior high school, medals were given to the top students in each class. I won medals in five of my classes in 9th grade–Algebra, Art, Civics, English, and Latin.  When I went up to receive the last of these, my classmates and teachers gave me a standing ovation.  For a self-conscious kid at a new school that year, that meant a lot to me.
What is your favorite book?
Growing up in the south, I’m still partial to a number of southern writers—Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner.  I also love books by Willa Cather, especially My Antonia.