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DAA: Claire Sawyers

Claire Sawyers

Claire Sawyers


Media, PA


When Claire E. Sawyers set out to master horticulture, she made the world her textbook. By the time she earned her Purdue master’s in 1981, she’d spent a semester in Japan, cultivated the private garden of Princess Sturdza in France, and gardened at Belgium’s Kalmthout Arboretum. She next spent seven years at the Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in Delaware, developing the systems and framework for a private estate to become a public garden. Her work included computerizing plant records, labeling and mapping the collection, and developing tour and volunteer programs. In 1990, she was named director of The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College. There, she directs a staff of 22, developing and maintaining the 330-acre campus arboretum that showcases more than 4,000 types of ornamental plants. Sawyers believes public horticulture is a bridge between art and science, between people and plants. “That’s what gets me excited. There is a calling and a deep sense of gratification being part of that bridge.” As with her studies, her career often takes her to other lands, most recently to Mexico to learn more about cycads, a group of slow-growing plants. She also regularly leads garden trips and has taken groups to U.S. spots, Scotland, England, South Africa, and Japan. Her most recent accomplishment is the 2008 publication of The Authentic Garden: Five Principles for Cultivating a Sense of Place. She’s both author and photographer. The seed for writing was planted at Purdue, where she wrote and edited for a horticulture publication. She’s taken more than 10,000 slides of plants and gardens, many of which are published. She enjoys her home garden—“I do love the physical act and creative process.” And her pastimes also include public speaking, traveling, scuba diving, visiting museums, and ballroom, contra, swing, salsa, and Cajun dancing. “So much came to me from the contacts I made at Purdue, the relationships I built with the faculty and staff. For students, that can be life-shaping and set you on a wonderful path.”