I have been landscaping and gardening since I was a child following my Dad around the rose bushes picking Japanese Beetles off of the blossoms. I have always loved being outdoors on a sunny day and when thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, it seemed inevitable to pick a career that would take me outdoors. My first “customers” were my parents, then relatives, neighbors and friends. Fortunately, they were tolerant of my lack of experience, though I feel like I made up for it in effort. I still have thorns embedded in my back from those early days learning to prune.
During one “college summer”, a neighbor of my parents hired me to work at his start-up garden center and placed me inside watching the store. I knew little about house plants and had a history of killing the free ones handed out at church on Easter. But, customers asked me questions every day and I felt it was important to give them the correct answer. I asked the owner but he was quite overwhelmed just managing the outdoor plants. So I spent my in-between time reading all of the books the garden center had in an attempt answer customer questions accurately. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and I was so thrilled that the house plants in the store were living and the advice was actually working.
The following year I got a job at a garden center closer to home. The questions customers asked now extended to outside plants as well. These two jobs set me on a career path toward getting a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. Even though my college adviser told me there were no jobs for me in the field, I was hooked and could not think of a more pleasant way to spend my working career than learning about trees and shrubs.
I received my degree from Rutgers University's agricultural college, then called Cook College, with a degree in Plant Science in Horticulture. The field of Horticulture is the study of “cultivated” varieties of plants including trees, shrubs, vegetables, flowers. I have spent the years hence learning and working in various disciplines in the field including planting and design, garden center, adult school teacher, horticulturist, park management and project management. I received certifications for Roadside Tree Care Expert through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Certified Arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture, Certified Compost Facility Operator and Licensed Pesticide Applicator through the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The applicator's license included exterior, interior and aquatic pests. I completed the North Carolina State University Park Maintenance Management School and the University of Maryland Better Composting School. I think I did pretty good for a young college co-ed who was told that there were no jobs for women.
I have retired from the full time act of commercial gardening and landscaping. I am happy to finally pay my home garden some much needed attention. This is our sixth residence and I have paid it the least amount of attention. It needs me and most importantly I need it. There is no better day in my life than one spent working outside, where copious amounts of energy have been expended. I love looking back at the project, covered in sweat, peppered with dirt, to see the fruits of my labors. There is no better kind of tired than the one felt at the end of that long, productive day.
What I love about this field is the learning never stops. Over the years I have learned a few things which may help those like minded enthusiasts still cultivating or educate those who just appreciate those cultivating. Some of my students wanted to know the science behind what they were doing, while others were happy to know enough to solve the immediate problem. The intent of this blog is to satisfy both.
My most difficult “student” over the years was my mother. She was not an outdoor gardener. She did not like to get her hands dirty. She developed an interest in indoor gardening though, growing African Violets exclusively. It started when a friend of hers was moving and gave her all of her African violets. Her friend gave her instructions for their care “water once a week”. She did not question any part of the process and watered faithfully. The African violets slowly petered out. She would ask me for advice and I would suggest that they may not need water quite so regularly. But her friend told her once a week and that is what she continued to do.
My lovely mother started becoming a believer once I bought her a Soil Moisture Meter. It was a new gadget then but was a literal demonstration of over-watering. She observed that the plants in the east window dried out sooner than the ones in the north window. The meter showed her that the plants in the clay pots dried out sooner than the ones in plastic. The act of metering before watering also gave her a way to nurture her plants without watering them and I think she liked that. Best of all, she did not have to get her hands dirty.
The African Violets started to thrive and her confidence grew commensurately. Her friends started donating their dying houseplants to her to bring them back to life. Her indoor garden soon expanded to the living room, the front hall and the sun porch. At the beginning of every visit to my parents house my mother would give me the tour, telling me the name of the house plant, the person who gave it to her, and an update on the house plant's progress. She enjoyed her role as a plant expert among her friends and it became our common bond.
This blog is an extension of this common bond, to share what I have learned and to learn what you all have to share. For me it is about the joy and satisfaction of watching these living things grow and understanding the science behind what ails them. My Mother's experience, which became one of pleasure and pride as her ability as a “grower” was shaped, became a mantra of sorts. Even those with limited interest, limited resources and limited space can learn to grow things. To those who have tried and failed only see themselves as having a “black” thumb or they think it is a matter of “bad luck” with plants, I want to assure you that we all start the same way. My Mother and I learned through the same trials and tribulations. I did my share of plant killing, but persevered to learn the science behind the “Why?” My philosophy focus' on “work smart” gardening and not about working hard to have the garden you want. My goal is to share tips on how to look for the telltale signs to make your garden flourish and not flounder. It starts with the first plant.