Inside The New York Botanical Garden

7th Annual NYC-Area Green Industry Intern Field Day

Posted in Learning Experiences on July 30 2019, by Charles Yurgalevitch

Charles Yurgalevitch is the Director of the School of Professional Horticulture at The New York Botanical Garden.

Photo of interns at Hortie Hoopla

Just half a day before this year’s Hortie Hoopla, the weather was oppressively hot and humid with afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rain showers dumping over an inch of rain on the grounds of NYBG. By morning, the sun was clear in the sky, the humidity reduced by almost half. The new day brought a new start for this year’s Hortie Hoopla, now in its 7th year.

As the visiting interns arrived in the morning to pick up their lanyards in the Ross Gallery, they were able to speak with staff from Schumacher Companies, who was one of this year’s sponsors, and the New York City EcoFlora project, both of whom had tables set up. Many visiting interns spoke with Molly Hutt, Maintenance Division Manager at Schumacher, about internship and employment opportunities at Schumacher. Brian Boom, Vice President for Conservation Strategy at NYBG, spoke with dozens of the interns about the New York City EcoFlora Project and the Saving the American Ash project, both local and regional projects of the Center for Conservation Strategy. He noted plenty of interest in both undertakings, and a number of people signed up to participate in each.

“I was struck with how eager the participants were to engage with these conservation initiatives, and they clearly liked having the opportunity to get involved directly with them as citizen scientists,” Dr. Boom said.

The program in Ross Hall began with Barbara Corcoran, Vice President for Continuing and Public Education, welcoming the nearly 225 interns gathered there, and introducing garden writer and podcaster Margaret Roach, who for the next 10 minutes asked the interns to share their career interests with the rest of the audience. I then took over as emcee and informed the group about two online resources developed specifically to encourage young people to consider the many career opportunities for them in the green industry: Seed Your Future and We Are Bloom

Photo of a speaker addressing a crowd in Ross Hall

Then it was time to start the ‘My Story’ segment of the program, which involved five successful and respected leaders in the green industry around New York City discussing how they became interested in plants and the various things they tried—not always successfully—to get where they are today. These included Shanti Nagel, Landscape Designer, Principal, Design Wild; Brad Park, Sports Turf Research & Education Coordinator, Rutgers University; Eric Rodriguez, Horticulture Manager, The High Line; Vinnie Simeone, Director of Planting Fields Arboretum; and Kadeesha Williams, Community Horticulturist/Urban Agriculturist, Bronx Green-Up.

This year’s keynote speaker was Kim Shearer, Tree and Shrub Breeder and Manager of New Plant Development Program, The Morton Arboretum. She told the interns what is was like growing up as a daughter of an American army captain and a Korean mother, moving around the world as her father was transferred. At each new home her mom created a sense of stability by planting a garden, which increased her curiosity about plants and lead her to student horticulture. Her next path led her to learn more and eventually earn a Master’s in plant breeding. Her final takeaways for the interns were: 

  1. Don’t allow your ignorance to be your own greatest obstacle
  2. Mentorship can be essential to clarifying your career goals
  3. Fight the fear—something great is about to happen

Following Shearer’s talk, interns proceeded to visit the Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx exhibition on the Conservatory Grounds, which was the first of six site visits planned during the day. Adam Dooling, Curator of Herbaceous Plants, spoke with about 40 interns in the Perennial Garden. Next was the Native Plant Garden, where five plants were to be identified as part of this year’s Mystery Plant ID contest. Michael Hagen, Curator of the Native Plant Garden and Rock Garden, said he and other staff spoke with 50 individuals.

“I was very impressed by the questions and interest from our visitors,” Hagen said. “There were questions about the size of our staff, ‘Where are the weeds?’, the design of the NPG, as well as specific issues in their own gardens.”

From there, interns and guests moved on through the Thain Family Forest, where Erica DeLuca, Forest Gardener, and Rick Jones, Biologist and Citizen Scientist, spoke to over 50 interns. 

Photo of interns in the Native Plant Garden

Onward then to the Green Materials Recycling Center, where Jodie Colon, NYC Compost Project Manager, and George Lozefski, Soil Science instructor, spoke with several dozen interns. George recanted two memorable moments of questions and exclamations.

“One pair of interns looking through microscopes at the soil stations exclaimed, ‘I had no idea soil had so many rocks in it!’,” said Lozefski. “I explained how soil is partly composed of minerals from rocks, but compost should not have much if any mineral content, as it is primarily organic matter and other non-mineral materials. They seemed intrigued and surprised.”

The interns eventually made their way to the Edible Academy, which also had the sixth plant for interns to identify. Nearly 100 interns stayed for the BBQ despite the heat and humidity. They met some of the educators, learned about programs there, and admired the variety of plantings in the various vegetable garden beds.

The day’s events concluded with hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, and cold drinks. Many prizes were awarded for the Plant ID contest, the Botanical Word Puzzle, and the best Hortie Joke.  Despite the weather, the expected thunderstorms held off until everyone had safely departed for home. The timing was good, and a wonderful time was had by all!