Horticulturist, Inniswood Metro Gardens
Hometown and background
I’m from Perrysburg, which is about 12 miles southwest of Toledo in northwest Ohio and has a population of about 25,000. I’m a horticulturist, and that profession was “seeded” in me when I was a child, as my mom had me out working in the family garden all the time. My mom loved gardening, a passion I no doubt inherited from her. We had about 6 acres of land, which included a soccer field and lots of turf, as well as cultivated areas. Unlike my siblings, I actually enjoyed weeding. As I think back, it’s those weeding sessions and working the flower beds that sparked my deep interest in plants.
As I got a little older, I became my mom’s trusted garden helper. My grandparents lived about 4 miles away and they also had a garden, so I graduated towards working in their garden too. My interest in plants manifested itself in my high school summer jobs as well. I worked at the Maumee branch of The Andersons Garden Center, mostly selling plants, but also learning about them. The Andersons had a very talented landscape designer, and I loved to study her designs. From this I became more and more interested in landscape design as a potential future career choice. Many people I encountered at The Andersons spoke about the horticulture programs at The Ohio State University, and that’s where I enrolled in college. Initially I was interested in studying landscape architecture, but I found this involved far more mathematics and far less direct working with plants than I’d envisaged, so I shifted my major to landscape horticulture. As I studied, I continued to work at The Andersons, at their Sawmill Road location, and also at the Maumee location during summer vacation.
I graduated from OSU in 2008, and in early spring 2009 I became the Display Gardens Manager at The Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio. The display gardens were concentrated mostly around the museum and history center and the visitor center, covering about 14 acres of a much larger complex. The area I tended may have been small, but I learned a great deal about the planning and design of public garden areas, as well as maintenance and the inevitable weeding. I worked with two seasonal staff members. Just as I would later learn about the fascinating lives and interests of the Innis sisters, Grace and Mary, whose donation of land and their home led to the founding of Inniswood Metro Gardens, I learned with equal fascination about the lives and interests of Beman and Bertie Dawes, who founded the Arboretum around their spring and summer retreat home. Beman and Bertie both had a love for trees and nature.
In early spring 2017, my executive director at The Dawes Arboretum, Luke Messinger, shared with me an ad he had been sent for the open position of Horticulturist at Inniswood. Luke believed it would be a great next-step career move for me and he encouraged me to apply. I did, and was delighted to interview and then accept the position to become Inniswood’s Horticulturist. I started working here in May 2017.
What I do at Metro Parks
I’m involved with everything plant-related at Inniswood, from the biggest tree to the smallest weed — and everything in between! My work is very cyclical, and there’s always plenty to do. The gardens may be largely dormant in winter, but those winter months are some of my busiest. In February, I determine the garden theme for the seasonal displays and from there I get heavily involved in planning and designing. The garden theme is displayed in nine different planting beds, covering about 40 acres of display gardens and turf, and I work on deciding what plants will go in which planting beds, and what we’ll grow in the greenhouse. This year’s theme for the gardens is “Vertical Visions” which not only involved growing the plants for displays but also building structures for plants to grow on — which was challenging but fun! Also, in those winter months, I work with the team from Slate Run Living Historical Farm, and plant seeds in the greenhouse for their heirloom vegetable garden. We develop around 300 plants for the Farm, which we bring from seed to planting-out status before sending the vegetables, and a few flowers, back to Slate Run.
In spring, there is an explosion of new growth to manage and maintain. That new growth is good, as planned, and bad, in the form of weeds. So I get to do plenty of my favorite old-time chore of weeding, although I have lots of wonderful volunteers and staff on my horticulture team to help out. Overall, May is typically the biggest month for planting in the gardens. More than 8,000 annuals, that we’ve either grown or purchased, are planted in the ground or in 80 containers displayed around the gardens.
Once all the annuals are bedded in, my planning turns to the annual “Mums” display, deciding which annuals will be removed in the fall and replaced by chrysanthemums. We plant just above a thousand “mums” each year. By August, I’ve already decided what kind of tulips we’ll display the following spring and have put in an order for bulbs. We grow more than 10,000 tulips each year. We plant them out in October and November, once all the annuals are removed from our nine display beds, ready for them to inspire and delight us with their beauty the following late-March and into April.
When not planning, planting or weeding you can find me pruning plants in the gardens and leading invasive removal projects with staff and volunteers.
What I love most about my job
There is never a dull moment in the gardens! And yet I spend so much time planning that it can be all too easy to forget to take a few precious moments to myself to simply step back and take joy in the beauty that I give so much to propagating. I love working with my team of staff and volunteers. I have a pool of about a hundred volunteers that regularly work in the gardens, and their dedication and love of plants, coupled with their passion for Inniswood, are a huge motivating force for me.
My favorite Metro Parks activity
Blendon Woods is the park nearest to my home, and I love to go there with my 7-year-old daughter Amelia. I remember the day she discovered the natural play area. It was during the pandemic, and because we could not get the extended family together for Thanksgiving Day, Amelia begged me to take her to Blendon Woods, so we could see the park’s turkeys. There are a lot of wild turkeys at Blendon Woods, and she really loves to pick out the males from the females. On that day, Amelia was captivated by the wonderful play equipment in the natural play area. She was a little too young to try out the zip line, but that has since become her favorite item. Seeing her joy brings joy to me, too, and now I also love to use the zip line, and together we usually have great fun on the teeter-totter as well. The Blendon Woods nature center is another tremendous resource for kids. For myself, I always derive a special pleasure when driving into Blendon Woods, just by seeing the wonderfully clean understory on either side of the road. As a plant lover, I find the woods bordering the entry road to be wonderfully serene, mostly void of invasive plants and truly beautiful.
My favorite Metro Parks story that includes a positive visitor interaction
One Thursday morning in spring 2021, I was with a group of volunteers on one of our bi-weekly garden-work sessions when I encountered a visitor in the Herb Garden. He asked me about the volunteer program and how it was going, and I said we couldn’t provide the terrific visitor experience that we do without the wonderful work and support of our volunteers. The visitor seemed delighted, and he introduced himself as John Metzger. Mr Metzger was Metro Parks’ Deputy Director back in the 1980s and he played a prominent role in helping to establish Inniswood Metro Gardens in that decade. He wore a smile as he told me that he had always believed that the volunteer program would be the making of Inniswood. Mr Metzger lives nearby and is a regular visitor to the gardens. I encounter him quite often now, and always enjoy a friendly chat with him.
If I could go anywhere in the world and time and money were not a concern…
I would want to visit a public garden in England, one that began life as the home of a garden designer that I idolize. I had the pleasure of meeting the English designer, Adrian Bloom, back in 2012. In fact, I introduced him as a guest speaker at the American Public Gardens Association’s Annual Conference. It was held in Columbus that year. Adrian had been commissioned to design a garden at the Chadwick Arboretum, on the OSU campus. He transformed his home into a public garden, called The Bressingham Gardens in Foggy Bottom, England. Don’t you just love that name! It’s on the border of Suffolk and Norfolk in East Anglia, on the eastern side of England. Adrian has written many books on gardening, especially on conifers and perennials, with which his garden is beautifully crammed. His Bressingham Gardens feature more than 8,000 species of plants. Visitors can book rooms in the gardens’ restored Georgian Mansion, and I would definitely love to spend a few days there.
Fun facts about me and my family
1. I’m an identical twin! My sister Emily and I often joke that no one would ever be able to tell us apart, and that we could trick people no end for any number of purposes — if we weren’t both of us far too nice to ever implement such a dastardly plan! We’re so alike in almost everything, apart from our career choice. She was never as keen on weeding as I was! Emily is a stay-at-home mom with one daughter. She still lives in Perrysburg.
2. I met my husband in horticulture class! I know that my husband, Tim, would love making the trip to The Bressingham Gardens with me, because he’s a horticulturist too. In fact, we met as students on the horticulture program at OSU. Tim works as an assistant horticulturist for the City of Dublin. He’s more of a tree lover, and I’m the one for the flowering and herbaceous plants. We love spending time together in our own garden. Tim usually cares for our vegetable garden, while I spend time on the beds of perennials and do most of the weeding. Our garden extends to about three-quarters of an acre.
3. My dad has become a plant lover! Ever since my dad retired, he’s developed a passion for gardening and it’s enriched our relationship in ways I never would have believed. My mom had always been the gardening lover in our family, but with time on his hands, after retiring, my dad has developed the green-finger disease. I mentioned earlier that we had a soccer field on our family land. Well that’s completely gone now, as my dad has converted both the soccer field, and an additional acre of turf, into vibrant native prairies. He’s built a small, one-room observation house on a hill overlooking the prairies, and we all, as a family, enjoy meeting there at family gatherings. We call it our “Little House on the Prairie.” My dad named the prairies after his grandchildren, which include my own kids, Amelia and 18-month-old Whitney. My sister Emily has one daughter, while my older sister Stacy has three kids, and my brother Denny, the eldest of our sibling group, has two. In a way, I’m sad that the soccer field had to go, because we all loved playing on it when we were kids, and our local club teams would often play or practice on it. I still love soccer, although I don’t play it any more. I enjoyed watching the Women’s Soccer World Cup, which has just ended. Sadly, the United States team only made it to the round of 16 this time, even though they had been among the favorites to win it all.
4. The Green Roof! I’m very proud of having helped to make a lasting impression at OSU, in the form of a 12,000-square-foot green roof at the university’s Howlett Hall. The headquarters of the Chadwick Arboretum and Learning Gardens is based at Howlett Hall, which was built in 1967. A green roof had been desired for the building, but there were no available funds for one in the 1960s. As my senior project at OSU, I developed a feasibility study to bring that early dream to reality. Along with OSU Landscape Designer, Professor Laura Burchfield, I presented my thesis at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum in 2008. It laid the groundwork for extensive fundraising and design and development work. The wonderful green roof was completed and officially opened in 2013.
My favorite food and dessert
I’m very much spoiled, as Tim loves to cook, and I love to eat! It makes us a really good pair — in my estimation! 😊
Rather than say what my favorite food is, I can say that my favorite “food experience” is to eat out with my family when tasting menus are available, and we can all try out the different and sometimes unique food combinations, paired with a nice wine or other tasty beverages. Recently, at a tasting menu event at Ray Ray’s Supper Club in Granville, I ate alligator for the first time in my life. Ray Ray’s is known for pairing food creations with the wares of local breweries or distilleries. The alligator was fried, and looked a little like a chicken nugget. I’m glad I tried it, but I can’t say I would want to rush out to try it again. I developed a love of beets from encountering them at a number of tasting events, where they often seem to be featured. I loved them served as a beetroot soup, or simply added to salads. For dessert, I’m not fussy, but anything with chocolate is always a winner, especially a good chocolate cake.
My favorite entertainment
I’m not a big reader, and I often seem to fall asleep while trying to watch movies, but both Tim and I love to watch reality shows on TV. Our favorite is probably Survivor, which is often a roller coaster of excitement as the survivors try to cope with all the challenges thrown at them. Amelia has also started to love the show too. Another favorite is Top Chef, on the Bravo channel, where chefs from around the country all cook in the same kitchen and have their food creations judged. I enjoy seeing the visual aspects of how the food is presented, while Tim likes to see how the meals are made, hoping to pick up tips to utilize in our own kitchen.
If I had just 60 seconds to share why I love working at Metro Parks, I’d say…
Inniswood visitors are always so gracious about the work we do here at the gardens. We are thanked so often, and we all welcome the positive comments and hearing how people enjoy coming here. I sometimes have to pinch myself and remind myself that this is work, and not just a pleasure to be here. Yet it truly is a pleasure, and the responses of our visitors make everything we do feel so worth it!