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Don Rakow: 20 years at Cornell Plantations

On May 22, E. N. Wilds Director Don Rakow announced he is returning to full-time academia, which will give him the chance to refocus his energies on teaching and mentoring students, as well as his research on public gardens and their contributions to society and human culture. 




Leading Plantations' Growth

As Plantations’ E. N. Wilds Director, Don Rakow led the fundraising for and implementation of a 10-year, $13.5-million series of new construction and renovation projects, which culminated in the 2011 opening of the award-winning and Gold LEED–certified Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center. In addition to the Nevin Center, Rakow oversaw the development and construction of the Plantations Plant Production Facility, the Bioswale Garden, and the Mullestein Winter Garden and Hillside Garden. Learn more about these transformations here.

Under his leadership Plantations doubled its natural areas holdings in Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes region, and the staff grew from 20 to 50 employees.

His initiatives also led Plantations and the university to make major new commitments to oversight and infrastructure improvements in Cornell’s iconic landmarks, including Beebe Lake, the Fall Creek and Cascadilla Gorge Trails, and the F. R. Newman Arboretum.



Author and Teacher

Rakow co-authored Public Garden Management (Wiley & Sons, 2011), the first textbook in the field of public horticulture, and is currently working on a new book to examine how public gardens are addressing social justice issues.  One of Cornell Adult University’s most popular instructors, he has planned and led many CAU garden study tours throughout Europe. He is very active with the American Public Gardens Association, having served on its board and as chair of several committees, and was the 2009 recipient of their Meritorious Service Award.

Leading Achievements

  • Increased the book value of Plantations’ endowment funds from $4 million to $18 million.
  • Led the fundraising for and implementation of a 10-year, $13.5-million series of new construction and renovation projects, which culminated in the 2011 opening of the award-winning and Gold LEED–certified Brian C. Nevin Welcome Center.
  • Led the master planning process for the enhancement and development of Plantations botanical gardens, including the new Six Friends East Asian Garden and series of new Peony and Perennial Gardens for which fundraising is currently under way.
  • Oversaw the development and construction of the Plantations Plant Production Facility, the Bioswale Garden, and the Mullestein Winter Garden and Hillside Garden. Learn more about these transformations here.
  • Founded and directs the Cornell Plantations Graduate Program in Public Garden Leadership, a Master of Professional Studies program offered in conjunction with the Department of Horticulture, one of only two national programs.
  • Advised and served on the thesis committees for 35 graduate students, including all students in the Public Garden Leadership program.
  • Taught Cornell courses such as: Public Garden Management, Plantations Lecture Series, New Directions in Public Horticulture.
  • Was a prominent and popular speaker for Cornell alumni groups, Cornell audiences, and public garden professionals.  Lectures included “A Vision for New Gardens at Cornell Plantations,”  “Why Parks and Gardens are More Important than Ever,” Why We Need Public Gardens,” and “What Is a Public Garden.”
  • Was an active member of the American Public Garden Association (APGA), serving on the Board of Directors, Editorial Board, Awards Committee, Standards and Professionalism Task Force, and the College and University Gardens Committee.  Received the APGA Service award in 2009.
  • Served on Cornell committees, including: Gorge Safety Task Force, President’s Sustainable Campus Committee, Land Practices Workgroup, Cornell University Council Administrative Board, Faculty Fellow for Hans Bethe House, Cornell Committee on Sustainability and Transportation, Campus Planning Committee, Cornell Land Use Management Committee.
  • Served on the boards of Ithaca community organizations, including: the Finger Lakes Land Trust, Ithaca Sciencenter, and the Cayuga Waterfront Trail Advisory Board.
  • Helped to found the Ithaca Discovery Trail, a consortium of eight educational organizations based in Ithaca, NY: Cornell Plantations, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Museum of the Earth, Cayuga Nature Center, Sciencenter, The History Center, Tompkins County Public Library.