Plants & Gardening
I start plants, either by sowing seeds or by doing cuttings, to support all the different programs at the Garden. So when [horticulturists and other Garden staff] decide what plant they want, my job is to start that plant and get the little seedlings, the baby plants, ready to pass off to the growers.
I grew up in Montana in a mining town. In the early 1900s when the mining was at its heyday and there wasn’t any thought of environmental consequences, the pollution was so bad that grass didn’t grow. When I was growing up it wasn’t that bad, but there still wasn’t the interest in gardening like there is in areas like Chicago. We went on a trip to [the United Kingdom] and went to a botanic garden. I think it was in Scotland, along the coast. Compared to Montana, it had a lot of tropical plants and it was really lush. I was just amazed.
When I was in college in Montana, I studied horticulture, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. Then I came out [to the Chicago Botanic Garden] for a year-long internship. I didn’t end up going back to college—I stayed. I did eventually finish my degree, but in horticulture the hands-on experience is so important.
I started as a grower. Then I worked in our nursery as a supervisor for a couple years, then moved into propagation, which is what I always wanted to do.
I started college in education, but I decided I really didn’t want to be a teacher. So then I was like, I like plants, I’ll try horticulture.
I was good at science in school, and I remember having a teacher say, you’re good in science, you should be a teacher. Why didn’t they say, you’re good in science, you should be a scientist?
I like figuring out how to get the plants to grow. In the past, [Garden staff] would go to Siberia or the Republic of Georgia, countries that have similar environments to Chicago, and collect a lot of seeds and bring them back. It might be a maple, but it’s a different type than we’ve grown here, different than I can find any information on, so I try to figure out how to get it to grow. We’re trying to mimic nature.
It’s really fascinating, the survival mechanisms that plants have come up with. I walk through the Dixon Prairie and I have seeds stuck on my clothes, because they’ve figured out that’s how to distribute themselves. That’s stuff that I find interesting, all these natural mechanisms plants have come up with to germinate at the right time, to make it through the conditions they have to make it through until it’s the prime time or place to germinate.
The key part that our department and propagation play in so many different parts of the Garden, so many different programs. Like for Camp CBG, when the kids are taking home this little plant—this is where it starts.