Ruth Robinson

Learning from the Arboretum’s First Director


Ruth Robinson graduated from the University of Guelph’s Environmental Horticulture program in 1974 and got a job at the fledging Arboretum as a plant propagation technician. She describes the experience of learning directly from Arboretum Director, R. J. Hilton, on how to prune, bud, and graft plants — skills that she has been able to use throughout her career as a landscaper and in her volunteer work as well. Ruth also shares that she was gifted with R. J. Hilton’s budding knife once he retired, a possession she treasures along with her memories at the Arboretum.
Interview by Jingyi Long, CTS*3020 student, University of Guelph. 

Listen to more stories:
The Origins of the OAC ’56 Park in the Garden
First Memories at the Nature Centre
A Space of Happy Beginnings


Learning from the Arboretum’s First Director Transcript


0:00 My name is Ruth Robinson. I graduated From the environmental horticulture program in 1974 and got a job at the arboretum when I graduated under the direction of the founder, Doctor Hilton.

0:10 This is the old propagation grounds.

0:12 I was a plant propagation technician.

0:14 And what I can see, I’m standing pretty much on the last house.

0:17 And beyond that, I’m looking at the area that’s now assumed to be somewhat gene bank.

0:21 It was a huge nursery with a lot of plants in it from different countries.

0:26 We had an international seed exchange program.

0:29 It seemed like an endless nursery and a lot of plants from there, of course, got moved out to the collections.

0:36 The other thing I see from here is where the old henhouse had been, that was our propagation shed.

0:43 There was a cutting bed in there with misting equipment and then also we did the seed treatments.

0:49 So I spent most of my time here.

0:51 I maintain the plants we had, you know, weed control to do and a lot of pruning, I loved doing the pruning part and with a little bit of cutting and grafting.

0:59 Doctor Hilton taught in all sorts of, basics about plants to actually learn it from him.

1:05 because he was, he was a pro at it.

1:09 yeah, that was special.

1:10 I mean, I realized that I realized that at the time, even if I didn’t realize how lucky I was at the time overall I knew working with Doctor Hilton was special.

1:19 He was no sort of about being one with the crew anyway.

1:23 It was, it was a very relaxed situation.

1:27 You don’t get that every single job for me to be able to work, beside him and have him as my mentor.

1:35 I guess without totally realizing it, but appreciating it, I think that’s my, that’s my fondest memory of the whole thing.

1:44 I think that’s a big memory.

1:45 Actually.

1:47 I didn’t prune before that and I feel extremely comfortable pruning and I, I owe that to, to Doctor Hilton techniques.

1:54 I believe he just, again, not something I, I realized it would actually use so much in my, throughout my career, but a lot of people actually don’t feel comfortable doing it and it’s just like I just jump right in there because my, my sound background in it, it’s on my agenda to get back to this.

2:11 Yeah, I have a budding knife.

2:12 Actually, I have Doctor Hilton’s budding knife.

2:14 That’s pretty cool.

2:15 Yeah, it’s there on she, yeah, he retired after I was here four years and I don’t know if he was just giving out those things then.

2:22 But I, I got his budding knife or maybe it was when we were doing work here and I also got some of his books.

2:28 That was cool.

2:30 So, I think a lot that I learned here is really, you know, it’s a part of my life, even though I didn’t work in my field the whole time.

2:40 yeah, I’ve, I’ve always dabbled along the way.