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Green Industry Field Day at NYBG

Ken Druse, Keynoter, Green Industry Intern Field Day, NYBG

It was balmy weather  – perfect for a day to spend in the
Well every day is
a good day to spend in the Garden but this was a day to herald because it
promised so much.  
It would not be too
dramatic to say the future of horticulture was on display almost as much as the
plants throughout the 250 acres at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).
See, The School of Professional Horticulture was hosting the
first-ever Green Industry Intern Field
 aka Hortie Hoopla, July 24 at NYBG, created especially for those “interested in a career
in horticulture, ecology, landscape design, or ecological restoration – for
anyone who loves working with plants and wants to improve our environment and
the world by doing so.”
Important. Lofty.
Hortie Hoopla is the poignant brainchild of Charles Yurgalevitch,
Director of the School of Professional Horticulture, NYBG.
He said he was inspired to produce the event after reading Ken Druse’s article “The New Generation” in
the April issue of Organic Gardening Magazine as noted in the Garden Glamour post
of July 21st:
On the morning of the Green Industry Intern Field Day event,
Charles welcomed the 80-plus attendees and got right to citing some rather grim
Approximately 72% of horticulture jobs go wanting because
botanic gardens and parks and arboretum cannot find skilled workers
Sound crazy, doesn’t it? 
Especially in a world where – the job market is improving – most
are still on edge. So these kinds of career vacancies are startling, to say the
Charles noted that the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) is
working hard to remedy the perception that working with plants is not
He’d recently returned from
the UK where he met with education professionals at the RHS, the Royal Botanic
Garden, Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to collaborate on joint
or exchange internship opportunities.
In a curious coincidence – I saw a news story in the London
Daily Telegraph
about this topic from the April 13th
My dear Junior League girlfriend, Corinne Takasaki, who
co-owns NYC’s City Frame, was in London with her now/new husband James and
because she is so ever-thoughtful, sent me the gardening section of the paper
knowing how much I’d enjoy the garden stories and full-color photos.
I was filing this newspaper section just the other day when
I saw what was at the April juncture timeframe, an inconsequential story written by Ken Thompson (because it wasn’t about actual plants, per se) I’d overlooked.
Now, it was quite salient in light of the Green Industry Intern
Field Day.
It’s title?  “What’s
Wrong with a Growth Industry Job?”
“Horticulture is an ideal career for young people, say’s writer
Ken Thompson – if only they knew about it.”
I had to stop and think.
Were Ken (Druse) – horticulturist, author and photographer
of 18 books, writer and speaker from this side of the pond separated at birth
from the UK’s Ken? 
Ken (Thompson) is a plant biologist, writer and speaker who has
written four gardening books.
(Our Ken has the Brit Ken books beat by a factor of more
than three. So there. We won the Revolution, too. Ha! Sorry for the Yanks competitive nature.)
At almost the same time that “our” Ken Druse wrote his groundbreaking
story for Organic Gardening that
helped inspire Charles to produce the Green Industry Field Day aka the “Hortie
Hoopla,” it seems that the UK Ken was bemoaning the crisis in “home-grown job
applicants” not pursuing a career in horticulture.
As if a mirror reflection of Charles’ opening sad statistics,
the Telegraph’s
feature previewed a new, at that time, report from the Royal Horticultural
Society “Horticulture Matters” which was to be released for National Gardening
Week (April 15-21)
The report, which was presented to Parliament, (hello, US Congress?) noted
that almost half of under 25s do not think gardening is a skilled career in
spite of that country’s massive youth unemployment and nearly 70% of 18
year-olds think gardening should be considered only for dropouts and a career
not to be proud of – which is in direct contrast with those age 40 and over who
hold the exact opposite opinion. 
Horticulture has been “awash with career
changers,” the article cited.
The other Ken noted that young people “all too readily
associate gardening with the bloke driving a gang mower endlessly around the
local park, or the old chap they see tending his cabbages on the allotment.”
He writes the RHS does a sterling work in getting gardening
into primary school, (we don’t, despite the increase in Edible School Gardens)
but they fall down later in secondary school.   
I don’t know about you but I think our secondary school effort is non-existent…
Charles concluded his opening remarks by saying,  
“We are here today to tell you that plants are vitally
important to our lives.”  
Charles then introduced Keynote speaker: “our” Ken – Druse,
the garden superstar and host of Real Dirt, commenting how Ken shares the
vision that it is most important to help teach and promote the next generation
of gardeners. 
Ken got right to it.  My notes show he quoted a New York Times story about our coming food crisis and made a
powerful argument as to how the green industry holds the keys to our future,
citing strategies that include learning science to plant and grow and restore
green space, address the seed crisis and increase native plantings and promote the use of locally produced compost to lock in carbon in
the soil. (NY Times: “increasing organic
matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water
storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.”)
Shock and awe.
Ken had them eating
out of the palm of his hand.
Besides, Ken is a
brilliant, talented speaker.
He mixes the banal
(suburbia’s tree volcano crimes and $2 million house with the $30 garden); 
to the
WTF (the YouTube video of the half-clad man wearing a gardening belt showing how
to plant an instant garden) Yikes! 
to the sublime (the loss of Garden Design magazine) 
See also my compelling post about Garden Design Magazine:
Ken also spoke to the power of plants and nature: the loss of his Garden State country house
garden due to Hurricane Irene and flooding and Superstorm Sandy, Monsanto and GMO and how the
Vertical Garden market is not sustainable…
With visuals to
amplify his talk the presentation was a mix of cautionary hort tales and exhortation
to be proud of what they do and imagine a better, greener world.
“Horticulture is a
profession,” Ken stated.  He quoted
fellow horticulturist, Pat Cullina, who famously said, “People go to school for
His use of industry
inside knowledge to make a few jokes helped bind the intern audience to Ken and
to one another.  They get it.  I could almost see the thought bubbles as
they laughed: “We are special.” “We know better and more.”
See, the interns and hort professionals are in on
the joke. 
And nothing bonds like a snarky, let’s make fun of the Cretans and
uneducated like a real-world scenario…
Ken also teased to
great effect that perhaps a social media solution to get more people to
appreciate plants and especially trees is not to proclaim his motto: “We’d be
dead without trees” (I liked it: it’s catchy, short and true.)
But to change the name
or moniker of “trees” to what the Tarheel Keith Lubowski calls trees, “Earth
Kittens!”  Ha! 
For those not on social
media or under a rock, see Forbes magazine, “How Puppies and Kittens can Save
Your Social Media Strategy.”
Ken offered optimism
and hope too.  
“We need to teach municipalities
that horticulture = money.”
He pointed to the city
of Chicago and its ability to generate millions of tourism dollars as a result
of the gardens and rooftop gardens and botanic garden.
“Here in New York, the
High Line attracts visitors from all over the world and it has changed the
neighborhoods,” he said.
“Nature means big
He described how we
can promote living art to the public; citing as examples: Chanticleer,
Greenwood Gardens, and the Brooklyn Grange to name a few, where green
investments yield profitable enterprise.
Ken also played with
the notion that edible gardens are “Gateway Drugs” to ornamental
gardening.  “Gardens also feed souls,” he
Ken stressed the
importance of telling stories about plants – about creating narratives for
their history, their design and their contribution to nature’s compositions.
Plus “Plants are
living things,” Ken admonished.
It’s not all turf and
grass.  As some here and in the UK it
seems are wont to think…
He reminded the
audience of interns that it wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t the
opportunity to even study botany.  Prior
to 1905 scientists were focused on animal husbandry and agriculture not
cultivated plants. 
But the new science
captured young people’s imaginations – and it can do so today.
Ken threw out a
challenge and laid down the gauntlet – or trowel: 
“Is there a gardening
Rhetorically,  he
answered, “It’s up to you.”
Emma Seniuk, Chanticleer Gardener
Next up was Emma
Seniuk, who as a gardener at the exquisite Chanticleer Garden, talked about her
three-step journey to a career in horticulture.
She began working in a
greenhouse at age 18 by first opening up the telephone book – which is an anachronistic
reference to what can only be used as a booster seat today.  Back then she needed the phone book to look
up “flowers.”
She got the job and grew
flowers with a third generation of growers.
The next move was a
big step on the hort track.  At Longwood
Gardens she realized she could make a living as a gardener. 
And then, after
hearing Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter at Winterthur talk at a Longwood
Gardens’ symposium, she was invited to work and study for a year in England for
yet another step.  “I learned creative
gardening there, worked hard and grabbed every opportunity,” Emma advised.  “And you need to have tremendous faith in
people,” she added enthusiastically.”
 Ethne Clarke, Editor in Chief, Organic
Charles introduced me
to Ethne prior to the presentation and we spoke briefly while we sat in the
auditorium waiting for the talks to commence.
But it was only after
Ethne’s brief talk that I had to tell her that she certainly has lived a
charmed horticultural life!
Besides her current,
lofty position at Organic Gardening,
she lived in the UK for more than 30 years, arriving there from Chicago to work
on the Encyclopedia of Gardening that was to be published in the US. 
“They had to
‘Americanize’ the text posting.” She joked that she could read and take out the
“U” in color – and consequently got the job!
She was soon clipping
roses in her tennis gardens!
“I stand here before
you to encourage you to follow your bliss,” she advised with a happy
smile.  “Follow your bliss for you – and
for the world you ‘ll inherit.” 
Ethne’s newest book, An
Infinity of Graces
is about Cecil Ross Pinsent, the estate and villa
garden designer – an English expat who lived in Florence. 
While in Florence, she
said she was urged by an elderly man she knew “to find out everything you can
about Cecil.” She did keep at it plus others offered input until it was all
transformed into a beautiful book:

Ethne told the interns
she looks forward to seeing them in upcoming editorials in the magazine and
announced the “Next Generation” would be an annual feature!
The Garden Tours and Supper
No Green Field Day
could be considered education and fun without a tour of the Garden’s Living
On this day, there was
also a scavenger hunt of sorts to track down five marked plants that were to be
ID’d (and I do mean Marked – one had
the answer right on the Conservatory tree!) 
Too easy!  
In contrast, NYBG’s Francesco
Coelho told me that she had preferred to mark the Desert House’s Uncarina decaryi
– a South African tree that was blooming a sunny yellow – but was told no, that
would be too challenging an ID. 

The ID was an industry
fun challenge.
The touring of the
gardens with fellow horticulture professionals was so much of what the day was
about.  The camaraderie, mutual respect
for what they do and are passionate about. 
I very much liked the
Four Seasons display on the lily pool terraces created by Philip Haas, American
Filmmaker and artist.
I also stopped in to
see John at the Shop in the Garden (
and see how my book was doing. There was only one left – I signed it. John said
they had another case and I should stop back to sign.  I must return soon! 
I encountered an
intern from Stone Barns, Vanessa Harmony, who is so emblematic of the hope and
pride in Green Industry Interns – she could be the poster child or the face of
a merit badge.

As we toured the
Collections together I got to learn about her background – she is a student of
the world, having grown up with stints in Colorado and Jakarta and Dallas and
Pennsylvania and Canada.

When asked what she
wants to do, she replied without a moment’s hesitation and with direct
authority, “I want to help connect people with nature and pursue my passion for
healing humans’ connection with Nature and our food systems.”
Take my hand, Vanessa!
She possesses a calm and
knowledgeable presence. She inspires trust. 
She is enchanting…
“It’s hard to get
people to engage with plants and food is a universal thing…” Vanessa
Yes, food is magical…
Vanessa hopes to
combine her growing, harvesting, foraging, and organization and communication
skills earned during her passage working as a project manager for ePharmaSoultions
doing social media, marketing, and organizing clinical trials.
Vanessa appreciates
how the farmers and the chefs at Stone Barns collaborate on new, seasonal farm
to table dishes. 
As a card-carrying
enthusiast of Dan Barber, his menus, food thought leadership and Jack Algiere
and their soil management, I can readily understand Vanessa’s adventure and
admiration for the food and agriculture program at Stone Barns Center where she
helps maintain the food production gardens, coordinates harvests of the
culinary and floral herbs and leads educational foraging walks for the chefs
and bartenders.
The day concluded – appropriately – with a supper in the Family Garden. 

I’d promised Charles I’d help get things set up there.
After hitching a golf cart ride over with a former NYBG employee,
I entered the Family Garden and marveled again at its charm, organization and
edible displays.  

Everything was so picture perfect at the dining area – also
the site for the very successful Mario Batali’s Kitchen Gardens and Family
Dinners. (See post from my other blog:

I joked with guests and Annie Novak, Manager of the Garden’s
Edible Academy located in the Family Garden, that there must really be three of
her! She is seemingly ubiquitous. And successful at everything her green thumb
Annie Novak, NYBG Edible Academy 

For the Hortie supper, Annie and her team were in full
charge of the bbq, HUGE sub sandwiches from Arthur Avenue

and enough salads and
drink to make everyone happy. 

Here is where the hobnobbing and networking sparkle.
This is the immeasurable metric that fosters success for an
event like this.
As I’ve said to Charles, corporations create many team-building
events so that staff can experience and learn the true meaning of working in
strength as a team. 
Horticulturists don’t get this chance, especially as they
usually work in a solitary way whether they work for a botanic garden or a
private estate.  Often, the only time
they come together as a group is in the lunchroom or holiday party.

The first-ever Green Industry Field Day was memorable and
successful and I’m glad I was there to report on this milestone.
I was able to give witness to a future of foraging and
farming and gardens.
Don’t miss Ken Druse’s Real Dirt interview with Charles:


  • Thank you for your Feedback Adela.
    Couldn't agree more… 🙁

    How do you stay connected and communicate with your fellow Hort professionals? What do you do?

    While Brisbane is seemingly far from The Bronx — hope to see you soon at the next Green Industry Hort event at NYBG…


  • Horticulturists do not get this opportunity, especially as they usually perform in a individual way whether they perform for a botanic lawn or a personal property. Often, the only time they come together as a team is in the lunchroom or celebration.

    Adelaroger @ garden design brisbane

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