For 44 years, J. Dean Norton has overseen the gardens, grounds, greenhouse and livestock of Mount Vernon Estate.

J. Dean Norton ’77

Working for George Washington

Experiencing a sense of place that transcends time, Dean Norton has spent the last 44 years sustaining George Washington’s greatest horticultural legacy — Mount Vernon Estate’s landscape design and grounds.
Norton, an Alexandria, Va., native, worked on the estate grounds while in high school. He worked with a Clemson student who talked about Clemson nonstop — his first introduction to the University. Wanting to attend an out-of-state school, he stopped by campus on his way to Myrtle Beach one summer. In Norton’s words, “I was hooked.”
After graduating from Clemson, the horticulture major began his career at Mount Vernon as the first boxwood gardener and was quickly promoted to director of horticulture and gardens. As the longest-serving horticulturist at Mount Vernon, Norton oversees a staff of 23 people responsible for the gardens, grounds, greenhouse and livestock. The estate is designed to look exactly as it did when Washington died in 1799. Documents, diaries, letters and new archaeological findings occasionally surface containing new information about the gardens and grounds. Norton and his team are then challenged to research and interpret the new finds in order to keep the state’s plantings accurate.
In demand to speak and lecture internationally on heritage horticulture and gardening, Norton has received numerous awards for his work and has been a guest on many network television and radio programs. The Clemson Historical Properties Committee invited him to evaluate the landscapes of the University’s historical properties; he hosted a Clemson Alumni cleanup event at Mount Vernon; and hosted University historian Jerry Reel for a talk on the connection between George Washington and Thomas Green Clemson.
Norton recalls his time at Clemson as “indescribably perfect.” In addition to a great education, he lists his experiences as a trumpeter in the Tiger Band, enjoying sporting events and embracing the Clemson spirit as some of his best memories.
“Simply put, I am one of the most blessed folks I know. I have worked at an institution and in a job that I have loved for 44 years. The degree I received from Clemson allowed me to be where I am today,” Norton said. “I am not only thrilled and honored to tell people that I work for George Washington, but I am also thrilled and honored to tell people that I received my degree from Clemson University.”

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