Bernheim at 90: Clarence ‘Buddy’ Hubbuch, The Arboretum Comes to Life

By volunteer

In Bernheim’s 90 year history there have been many people whose giant contributions have made this arboretum and research forest possible. Without doubt, Isaac Bernheim was foremost in that group but he was far from alone. Most of the other names are not familiar to Bernheim’s visitors but their vision and efforts have been key in making this forest sanctuary available to us all. It is appropriate that we look back at some of those contributions. This is the seventh in a series of posts to highlight those efforts. (click here to read part 1click here to read part 2click here to read part 3, click here to read part 4, click here to read part 5, click here to read part 6)

Bernheim’s holly collection, one of the largest in North America, was named in honor of former Horticulture Director, Clarence E. “Buddy” Hubbuch.

A good impression is critically important and Bernheim has that superbly covered. After receiving a friendly welcome at the entrance, we enter our amazing arboretum. For most of us, that introduction to this lush and inviting area triggers feelings of peace and tranquility. It also invites thoughts about the many wonders of nature and how it shapes our lives. This arboretum is the work of a great many people both past and present but one person will always, and correctly, be identified with its success. Clarence E. ‘Buddy’ Hubbuch started his Bernheim career as a young man with only a modest amount of experience in horticulture. He was a graduate of Male High School in Louisville with interests in science and nature. Following his graduation from Male, he worked for several years at the Boone Gardiner Nursery in Louisville.  His work there was interrupted when he served his country in the Air Force during the Korean War. After his discharge, he returned to nursery work and made the acquaintance of a plant buyer, Bernheim’s Forest Manager, Frank Bunce. When the position of Horticulturist at Bernheim became open in 1962, Buddy was offered the job and quickly accepted it.

When Buddy Hubbuch arrived at the forest, he found that some work had taken place but much was still to be done. The tree collections had begun and started to mature, Lake Nevin and the three Cedar Ponds (now the two Olmsted Ponds and Mac’s Lake) had been completed and drew the attention of visitors. Many visitors had grown to think of the area as a drive-through arboretum. While usually not intended as a negative description it was not fully aligned with Isaac Bernheim’s goal of forging closer connections between people and nature. Buddy went to work to transform the arboretum into a place where people would get out of their cars and happily spend hours exploring the wonders of nature and would be eager to return for many more visits.

Captured by 1987 Artist in Residence Nancy Lloyd, her “Sun and Shade Trail” photograph showcases the splendor of spring.

It wouldn’t be possible to list all of Buddy’s accomplishments in this brief article. A few of the many highlights of his stewardship include the addition of the Sun and Shade area and the trail that runs through it, the numerous themed garden beds, the dwarf conifer collection, the many additional interesting species of trees and shrubs planted, and the fencing that surrounds the arboretum to reduce damage from deer. Other changes included the construction of the Arboretum Center (now Garden Pavilion) along with its pond and garden beds. The addition of the nearby Quiet Garden and the path that links the two made it certain that Lake Nevin would never again be thought of as only a place to go fishing.

A variety of hollies in Bernheim’s collection. Photo by Bernheim Horticulturist Matthew London.



His signature achievement was certainly the addition of the Bernheim Holly Collection. The collection started when he had an unexpected opportunity to obtain a number of hollies from an area nursery. The area chosen for what was to become a large holly collection was a neglected and unattractive area with thin, worn-out soil and was covered by honeysuckle vines, brush, boulders, and other debris. Under Buddy’s supervision, the area was cleared, the land recontoured, and the soil was replenished. The collection quickly grew as additional interesting specimens were added and new cultivars were developed. The holly collection became one of the country’s largest with over 400 hollies, including over two hundred different species and cultivars. It has deservedly attained a national and even international reputation for excellence. Buddy developed a new holly, Ilex x attenuate, “Marilyn”, a fine-textured evergreen holly with striking red-orange fruit that he named in honor of his wife. In 1992 the entrance road at Bernheim was extended to make a loop around the arboretum providing visitors with easier access to the holly collection and other horticultural attractions that Buddy brought to Bernheim.

Buddy developed a new holly, Ilex x attenuate, “Marilyn”, that he named in honor of his wife.

Buddy honed his expertise in many areas over the years and was frequently sought out for his advice from home gardeners, other horticulturists, and nursery managers on a wide range of subjects including plant selection, nutrition, disease prevention and remedies. His encyclopedic knowledge of hollies made him a trusted resource for information and advice. His friends and admirers included fellow plant experts such as Theodore Klein who had provided many of those hollies, Bob Hill of Hidden Hill Nursery in Indiana and longtime Courier Journal columnist and WFPL radio host, and Fred Wiche, another noted plant expert who wrote the ‘Weekend Gardner syndicated newspaper column. Alan Bush, a noted horticulturist and founder of Holbrook Farm and Nursery in North Carolina, spent a summer at Bernheim interning under Buddy. He later said that he spent those months keeping his mouth shut and soaking in Buddy’s wisdom. Buddy delighted in escorting garden clubs, horticultural students and other visitors through the arboretum he had worked so hard to develop and he kept up a correspondence with many of them.

An article written by Bob Hill for the Courier Journal in 1995, the year Buddy Hubbuch retired from Bernheim.

Buddy retired from his job at Bernheim in 1995 and left it a much better place than the one he became part of thirty-three years earlier. One year before his retirement, his outstanding work was recognized when Bernheim received the honor of being designated as Kentucky’s official State Arboretum.  A fitting tribute to this superb arboretum and to Buddy. In the spring of 2000, the Bernheim Holly Collection was renamed the Hubbuch Holly Collection in tribute to this master horticulturalist.  His work also lives on in Florida where his son Charles ‘Chuck’ Hubbuch works at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Garden — and grows the holly named for his mother. Enjoy the treasures of the arboretum and give thanks to the man who did so much to make it such a treasure.

Ken Johnson, Bernheim Volunteer Naturalist

In 2019, Bernheim celebrates 90 years of connecting people with nature. At over 25 square miles, Bernheim is the largest privately held forest dedicated to conservation and education in the region. Our arboretum is home to plant collections of over 8,000 varieties, public art, and educational programming for thousands of students.  Our pristine forest hosts hikers and outdoor adventures alongside research and conservation projects which will serve to protect the environment for future generations.

As a 100% member and donor supported organization, we could not fulfill this important mission without you. We hope you’ll continue to support our efforts throughout the next 90 years.  Join or donate by clicking here.

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