Horticulture is Thriving: 2nd Hortie Hoopla draws 125 NYC-area Interns

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Hortie Hoopla speakers

Left to right: Charles Yurgalevitch, School of Professional Horticulture; Uli Lorimer, Brooklyn Botanic Garden; Joseph Tychonievich, author and plant breeder; Lynden B. Miller, public garden designer; Ken Druse, garden writer and radio host; Nick Storrs, Randall’s Island Park Alliance; Brenden Armstrong, SoPH graduate

New as it is, Hortie Hoopla is already a key event for young horticultural professionals looking to find their footing in this fast-paced and challenging field, one that’s always on the look-out for fresh ideas and new faces. The New York Botanical Garden invites green industry interns from all over the New York metropolitan area and beyond to spend the day in the Garden, linking up with their fellow horticulturists, accomplished career plantsmen, and scientists, all while enjoying a day of tours, games, networking, and BBQ. But first: the inspiration.

Taking the stage on July 23 in front of 162 attendees, including 125 interns, Charles Yurgalevitch, Ph.D., director of the Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, laid out the core goals of Hortie Hoopla: to inspire, introduce, explain, energize and excite, and unwind. Yurgalevitch’s opening talk soon gave way to a panel of veteran gardeners and expert horticulturists who shared their stories with the crowd.

Interns enjoy a tour of the Native Plant Garden, led by NYBG Curator Michael Hagen

Interns enjoy a tour of the Native Plant Garden, led by NYBG Curator Michael Hagen.

First among them was Lynden B. Miller, a well-known public garden designer and contributor to our ongoing Groundbreakers exhibition. Miller referenced horticulture as a means to “soften and cultivate city life,” something sorely needed as urban development continues to encroach on natural landscapes. “Make it gorgeous, and they will come,” she said of public spaces. “Keep it that way, and they will help you.”

NYBG’s own Annie Novak—who started as a Garden intern and became the Manager of the Edible Academy—followed up with practical advice for those looking to get their foot in the door. “Ultimately, your network is your nest egg,” she said, going on to explain how job field flexibility and heeding good advice go a long way toward self-sufficiency in the horticulture world. Annie was succeeded on stage by Uli Lorimer, Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Curator of the Native Flora Garden, who added that there’s no substitute for due diligence in studying the plants you like and dislike when building a foundation of botanical knowledge.

Nick Storrs, Urban Farm Manager for Randall’s Island Park Alliance, and NYBG School of Professional Horticulture alumnus Brendan Armstrong offered similar sentiments, suggesting constant engagement with respected veterans in the field, seeking out the critiques and advice that are so integral to developing job experience. Ken Druse, whose prolific body of writing and speaking works has earned him a place as New York’s gardening superstar, adamantly spoke against the dumbing down of horticulture that is so common today, explaining that garden design is much more than simple outdoor decorating, and contrary to claims on popular remodeling TV shows, there are no “instant” or “quick” ways to create a beautiful outdoor landscape. It takes time. The garden is never finished, and we wouldn’t want it to be.

Interns meet with representatives from NY-area gardens, parks, and landscaping companies during the Career Information Session.

Interns meet with representatives from New York-area gardens, parks, and landscaping companies during the Career Information Session.

The discussion closed with keynote speaker Joseph Tychonievich, author of Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener and the Greensparrow Gardens blog, who suggested making every effort to leave your comfort zone and gain experience in numerous horticultural undertakings. In his opinion, it’s not only a simple way to find out exactly what you want to do, but it opens you up to a slew of potential opportunities you might otherwise have missed. “Things you think that won’t make an impact can lead to opportunities,” he said.

For the interns in attendance, it was tough to ignore the importance of what these career green thumbs had to say.

“After listening to the lectures, I am really intrigued by all of the career possibilities,” said Charles Griggs, an intern with NYC Parks Recreation. “Horticulture is a means to better understand the urban environment and public space.”

The morning lectures broke with a lunch and a Career Information Session featuring NYC Parks Recreation, Central Park Conservancy, Shemin Landscape Supply, Town Gardens, Organic Gardening Magazine, and GrowIt. The organizations were as excited to be able to talk to the interns as the interns were to learn about career opportunities in horticulture and landscape design. GrowIt! offered a scholarship contest for six winners to win awards of up to $500 by testing their new app, GrowIt! Garden Socially.

A cook-out in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden winds down the day.

A cook-out in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden winds down the day.

Sometimes the best way to learn about horticulture is to see it. With this in mind, groups of Hortie Hoopla attendees broke off to visit the Native Plant Garden and Thain Family Forest, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and Perennial Garden, and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library and William and Lynda Steere Herbarium.  On one tour, Michael Hagen, Curator of the Native Plant Garden, and Brian Sullivan, VP of Gardens, Landscapes, and Outdoor Horticulture, led interns through NYBG’s summer collections while engaging them with discussion and quizzes to keep up the tempo. They also took the time to address the importance of local flora and increased ecological considerations in modern gardening efforts.

For Maria Roe, another horticultural intern, the inspiration struck close to home. “As an NYC resident, I hope to contribute to more natural areas that people can enjoy,” she said.

By dusk, everyone had gathered among the vegetable beds in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden to unwind, enjoy games, and dig into some BBQ as the sun set on another successful Hortie Hoopla. Prizes of gardening tools and books were awarded to winners of the Plant ID Contest, plant quiz, and best plant joke contest.

Hortie Hoopla in the Family Garden

Professor Emeritus Darrel Morrison, FASLA, assisted by Eric Lieberman SOPH Manager, announces the winner of the grand raffle prize in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden.

Sana Javeri Kadri, a green industry intern in attendance, left feeling positive. “I think we all learned so much and left brimming with excitement and geeky plant dreams,” she posted to her Twitter page.

As Ken Druse made clear, the work is never done—urban garden design is a challenge that continually evolves, producing fresh facets and hurdles that call for new and ever more innovative solutions. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, it’s the young gardening hopefuls that joined us here this week who will be answering horticulture’s future questions.

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