Born and raised in Canon, Georgia, Owens grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He graduated with a B.S. from the University of Georgia in 1926 after studying horticulture, agriculture and landscape gardening, and also earned a Masters in Education in 1933. In 1928, he established the University of Georgia’s landscape architecture program, its only professor for the first nine years. He simultaneously continued his own studies during five summers at Cornell and Harvard. For more than 45 years, Owens educated students and developed improved teaching techniques and educational methods. He was named the first dean of the School of Environmental Design in 1969, and retired in 1973.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Owens had an active private practice. He designed numerous private gardens in the Colonial Revival style for clients throughout Georgia. He worked on such diverse projects as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Grounds in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; the Berry College campuses near Rome, Georgia; Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia; and the Founders Memorial Garden on the University of Georgia campus. Owens served as president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects from 1974 to 1976. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and served as the Society’s president from 1965 to 1967.