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An Intern’s Life in a Public Garden: The Best Job in the World

An Intern’s Life in a Public Garden: The Best Job in the World

Posted by Hallie Schmidt, AEPS ’13

Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Filoli is a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Formerly a grand 654-acre country place, Filoli is operated today as a public garden, cultural center, and nature center. It was built in 1917 as the country estate for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II and has a 16-acre formal English Renaissance-style garden as well as original elements from a “gentleman’s estate,” an orchard, agricultural fields, and oak woodlands.

Under the supervision of a horticulturalist, interns learn techniques of planting, watering, hedging, fertilizing, mowing and pruning, with two-week rotations in five garden areas. They are also taught to operate power equipment, use hand tools and are required to learn garden and greenhouse plants, weeds, and native plants. A test on these subjects completes the 10-week program.

As part of my internship, I kept a daily journal of my activities. At the end of each week or when I felt inspired, I would write an overview of my experiences and thoughts about everything. Below are my journal entries while at Filoli.

WEEK 1:

I am already thoroughly enjoying this internship program. I appreciate that my lead trusts me to do more specialized tasks like pruning or mowing. Because I am given good direction, I feel that I have been doing well with the tasks assigned to me. I am also performing regular tasks more quickly and with more confidence as I become comfortable with them. For example, I watered pots and coiled hoses much more quickly on Friday than I did on Monday. On my second day of pruning azaleas I felt my approach and finished product improved. I appreciated the power tools workshops as I haven’t had a great deal of experience. The fine-cut mower makes me a little nervous, but I don’t think we’ll be using that here anyway. I wish I could drive a tractor…guess I’ll have to save that for the tractor driving class at Cal Poly, SLO.

WEEK 2:

Just as I get used to an area it’s my last day! I do like that I get to spend time in each area and with only a 10-week program, two weeks is generous. I’m beginning to notice myself go through different energy levels throughout the day. For example, I will be doing an activity like weeding, and I am dragging. It takes a lot of physical and mental effort to do a good job. And then, after break, I will be plowing through the beds, doing an effective job without even thinking. I wish I knew how to always be in that high-energy positive state. Interns stay with local families and do garden work in exchange for the hospitality. Going into this I already know that I wouldn’t be looking forward to the extra garden work after a full week of gardening. I am grateful for this opportunity that has saved me from having to arrange and pay for local housing for the summer. However, I think it would be ideal for interns to live together, on the Filoli property if possible. Since we don’t ever work together during the day we don’t really get to bond much and I feel we’re missing out. Even doing yard work together after work would be better than doing it alone.

WEEK 3:

I really like doing irrigation work because I feel that it takes problem solving and thinking. I do love gardening, but I also like to be mentally challenged. Sometimes gardening can be a “moving meditation” as Dave Lesser calls it, which is good. Irrigation, however, is like a moving puzzle for which you have to use critical thinking and observation. I also know that water is a huge issue in California, so being an auditor, or any job with water use, will have demand and possibly good money in the future. I will definitely consider this possibility. I don’t mind getting wet…in the summer anyway.

WEEK 4:

Once again, I am sad to be leaving this garden area. I really enjoy all the flowers for cutting. They have a nice effect with all the different patches of color around the garden. I think they are much nicer than roses, but people do love roses so they are an inevitable part of public gardening. I would really like to be part of flower arranging, either here at Filoli or in the future. Which is another class that I can take at Cal Poly, SLO. (Floral Design I & II taught by Melinda Lynch).

WEEK 5:

Working in the greenhouse is a total change of scenery compared to the past two weeks in the garden. I’m definitely enjoying it, which is surprising to me because after my nursery internship last summer, I decided I wasn’t into the nursery scene. It seems like a more social work environment because everyone is close together and there are more people working here. Also, I’m learning a totally new set of garden techniques (watering pots, propagation, interior plant care, greenhouse environmental controls, etc.)

One thing I found interesting was the biological controls being used in the greenhouses. In an effort to move away from pesticide sprays the staff is experimenting with introducing beneficial insects into the greenhouse environment and soil. So far I know there are good nematodes (that eat the larvae of fungus gnats and lacewings). There are also some botanical helpers: marigolds and peppers, whose pollen is apparently helpful. Cool, huh? At the end of the day I was having trouble with my forearm and wrist. I was doing a lot of hand-sewing and pruning over the weekend, plus holding the pruners while taking cuttings. Add holding the hose and I must have overworked it. I tried to do more cuttings in the afternoon but my hand was shaking and I wasn’t nearly as efficient as before. So I cleaned the greenhouse instead. I’m hoping tomorrow it will be back to normal. I like taking cuttings!

WEEK 6:

I got a history of renovations of Area Two from Matt. The area has undergone a lot of change since he began here about five years ago and it sounds like there’s more to come (removal of the rose garden, planting bulbs, renovating boxwood hedges and yews, moving from chemical to organic fertilizing, planned removal of the Sunburst Honey Locust and olive trees, etc.) Along with that, he explained to me the evolving goals of Filoli garden, as in practical vs. traditional, botanic garden vs. original specimen plants, various visions vs. the original architect’s vision for the property.

It’s an interesting thing for a public garden institution to consider, especially in the case of a historic national trust. My initial reaction was to introduce a variety of new plants and design ideas (I love protea and a “Native California English garden” would be an interesting challenge and demonstration for patrons) but I definitely see the benefit and reason to maintain a historic garden in the state it was originally planted and planned. There are numerous famous landscape architects. To change the plants and themes in a historic garden would be like modernizing or updating a Frank Lloyd Wright home. It would no longer be his piece and would not reflect history of the artist’s design accurately.

However, I do think changes in the cultural practices are appropriate, especially at Filoli where a lot of the traditional methods are still maintained. For example, I’m glad underground irrigation has been installed and I think it’s great that Filoli is making the move to using organic fertilizers and on-site composting in lieu of chemical fertilizers. Still, tradition is preserved, especially in the greenhouse area where the original greenhouses, cold frames and even wood cutting boxes are still used. Overall, this is an interested topic of debate.

WEEK 7:

I had a plant problems workshop and walk with Dave Lesser (Filoli horticulturalist). Dave is an interesting guy and it seemed to me that his main goal was to encourage us to observe the world around us in more detail than we are accustomed to doing. Having these skills will make us better diagnosticians of plant problems and also better storytellers and observers in general.

Something he said at the beginning of the talk stuck with me: the idea of gardeners being seen as “glorified janitors”. I see this perspective, and from the general labor we do I can feel it, too. However, in the case of plant problems, there is a step up in the respect people give (and the amount they will pay for consulting). After our walk I feel more confident in identifying thrips and fire blight and the weevil that likes Rosaceae plants.

I was already interested in becoming a certified arborist and this workshop got me even more motivated to do so. Just as with irrigation, I like the critical thinking and diagnostics that plant problems entail. Although pests and fungi and diseases gross me out more than water in pipes, I still find it interesting and could see myself doing this for a living, especially with trees. Trees are such majestic, revered, incredible structures of life and spending my work day around and up in them, sick or well, would be wonderful.

WEEK 8:

I’ve always been interested in compost so the combination of this with the soil science class I just took during the winter make a lot of the concepts easier to grasp in the composting workshop. Still, I have never had the opportunity to observe in person the methods of how small scale, commercial composting is done. The windrow turner is also a very cool piece of machinery. I think Filoli should be proud that the composting is going so well and that they seem to be successfully making the transition to more sustainable amending practices.

I’ve been pruning two huge, old camellias and I must say that when I finish one, it is very satisfying to step back and look at my work. The last two I did are round and about 10-12 feet high and maybe 6-8 feet wide. THey each took me two to three afternoons, but the finished product is an open, round, non-fluffy globe that should flower well into the winter and spring. Now I’m dreaming about camellia pruning. I see the leaves and Felcos in my mind when I close my eyes.

WEEK 9:

I am now in my final area! As the lead, Shippy said, it’s like my Olympics of the internship because I’ve been practicing the past eight weeks and now is my time to perform. After working in the sunken garden I feel more experienced in lots of skills I didn’t used to have. I’m also looking forward to learning more about fruit tree care as the orchard is part of this area.

Shippy explained to me what the regular morning routine will be for me: walking through the area looking for animal damage, dry spots in the lawn, etc. I will also take down the electric fence around the front of the house.

This area is unique from all the others for a few reasons. First is that is has a lot of hardscape and a great deal more non-formal and wild landscapes. This means different kinds of maintenance such as rough-cutting along roads, picking up trash in the parking lot, looking out for safety hazards, etc. Shippy emphasized the fact that this is a very public part of the public garden, as everybody who comes through here sees it. Also having the orchards is an interesting aspect because these are not attached to the formal hardens and really just serve as germplasm storage rather than appealing to visitors. Still, their care is important.

We just completed our plant ID test this afternoon and tomorrow we will have tests on power equipment and hand tools. I feel I did very well on the ID test–it was similar in format to Professors Hannings and Faulstich Plant Materials class at Cal Poly, SLO. I think the tool test will be more in depth than the ID test as in addition to names we’ll also have to know uses, parts, care, and maintenance.

To sum up my experience at Filoli, I’ve done five internships since I’ve been in college and I truly belive that I have learned more at this program than at any other place I’ve been. I came into this internship with minimal hands-on garden experience and now I can look at the garden and identify what needs to be done, what tools to use and of course, I can do it all myself! The most important lesson for me is that if i get a job like this one out of college, I would be happy and satisfied with the work I do. Visitors to the garden always comment to me that “this must be the best job in the world!” and although it is hard work, at this point in my life they are absolutely right.

 

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Internship at Ganna Walska Lotusland, Santa Barbara

Posted by: Aly Crofford

This summer I had the amazing opportunity of doing an internship at the famous and beautiful Ganna Walska Lotusland, and it was such a great learning experience! This internship really was ideal; paid, housing provided, in beautiful Santa Barbara, and did I mention the garden is INCREDIBLE?! The housing that Lotusland provides is on the grounds and is basically just a room with its own bathroom, which is all connected to what they call the “green cottage,” where all the gardeners meet in the mornings. My room was pretty spacious and comfortable, but hearing coyotes and critters all night definitely took some getting used to. This 10-week program has been a great stepping-stone from the textbook-filled academic lifestyle to the hands-on world of public gardens.

I got to spend my time at Lotusland working directly with the Plant Health Care Coordinator, Corey Welles, who has worked at Lotusland for 22 years. Corey introduced this garden to the world of composting and sustainable management about 20 years ago. On the first day of my internship I was shown all around the garden and the backfields. Corey also told me that he would be going on vacation for 4 weeks and that I would be “in charge” of a couple of his duties. I spent my first week with Corey learning how to brew compost tea, set rodent traps (gophers, voles, and rats), take and send soil samples, and keep up the compost piles. Corey is all about gopher trapping; it is literally the thing he prides himself most on, so he spent a lot of time teaching me his techniques. Other than these duties, I would spend the rest of Corey’s vacation time working in each of the 12 different gardens.

Upon coming to Lotusland, I did not know much about compost tea and its uses and benefits. The compost for the tea all comes from Lotusland’s own compost piles in the backfields of the garden. They try to always maintain about 5 or 6 large piles of compost, which are turned a couple times a month, watered, and checked for temperature. Almost all green waste from the garden is put into the compost piles, along with food byproducts and tons of wood chippings to provide good aeration. The piles are rich with fungi, arthropods, and other microorganisms. The finished compost is sifted by hand and used throughout the garden for tea, renovation projects, and any new plantings. Once Corey left for vacation, I was left with the duty of brewing compost tea 3 days a week and cleaning the system once a week. I was also in charge of the fertilizer schedule and making sure that each gardener was doing the applications correctly.

Other than that and doing some soil sampling and gopher trapping, I was doing maintenance in each themed garden. It wasn’t easy work, but I enjoyed learning about the different needs of each type of garden. For example, the gardener in the Japanese garden taught me “Japanese-style” pruning, and the water gardener had me in a heavy duty Eddie Bauer wet suit walking around the large ponds and fertilizing the lotuses and water lilies. My favorite garden to work in was the bromeliad garden. The gardener of the bromeliads, Mike Furner, has worked at Lotusland for 34 years and he really knows his stuff. He assigned me a landscaping project of installing a terrestrial bromeliad section of the garden. I also really liked working in the butterfly garden because all of the plants were so beautiful and they have the most gorgeous cannas I have ever seen. My least favorite garden to work in was the cycads because I kept getting myself poked by the spiny leaves and there was absolutely no shade and it was HOT. The cactus garden also didn’t have any shade, but I love cacti so it was bearable.

The summer intern also gets to work at the main event called “Lotusland Celebrates,” which is their annual fundraising event and pulled in 500 guests this year. I got to work at the registration table and also at the auction. Doing the registration was a little stressful because it was so busy and all of the millionaires were antsy to get into the garden and didn’t want to wait in line. It was really cool to actually see and meet many of the donors that give so much money to make Lotusland what it is today. Working the auction was definitely my favorite part of the day, where I just had to observe and wave a flag if I saw a bidder. There were 6 auction items and none of them went for any less than $10,000. It was fun to watch all of the bidders throwing out thousands of dollars like it’s candy and then laughing about it. This was definitely the fanciest party I think I’ll ever go to.

When Corey got back from Germany, work definitely got more enjoyable and we were doing things that really tested my knowledge, instead of raking and pulling weeds. Corey constantly gets summoned by the staff to come look at damaged or diseased plants and then takes samples into his office to research and look at more closely. This part was the most fun for me, since we got to examine different pathogens and pathology has been my favorite class at Poly so far. My boss was really impressed with my ability to identify pathogens, specifically Armillaria, and my familiarity with preventative measures (thanks Dr. Yoshimura). Corey was also happy to know that I had taken a Biological Control class, since he is really into beneficial insects. About 14 years ago, Corey–with help from professionals–strategically installed insectary plants all around the garden. He mostly used California natives such as salvia, Sambucus, coffeeberry, and coyote bush. These plants harbor and attract beneficial insects into the garden, which then fly in and attack the insect pests of the garden. I also got the chance to work with the curator and we went on a couple field trips to nearby nurseries to pick up plants. Working with the curator was probably my favorite part of the program and really sparked my interest in curation.

All in all, this internship was awesome and I learned more than I can even fathom. Corey taught me to consider the natural ecology of the surrounding environment and showed me how to renovate soils and create habitats for beneficial organisms. This ecologically-friendly approach goes way beyond integrated pest management or organic gardening; it uses holistic techniques that seek to address the roots of problems instead of applying a “band-aid” solution. I feel really lucky to have learned all these sustainable horticulture skills and plan to use these methods in my future career.

I could honestly go on and on about everything that I did at the garden, but I don’t want to bore you guys, so I will stop here. Until next time!

Posted by: Aly Crofford, AEPS student

 

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Intro: Bug Detective

Intro: Bug Detective

Posted by Dani Ruais

Cal Poly is full of opportunities. I did not think that I would have found an interest in plant protection science while I was here, but I found that I have deep fascination with insects and their interaction with plants. After my introductory entomology class with Dr. Headrick, I decided that I would concentrate on plant protection sciences, and filled out the necessary paperwork for my concentration that same day. During the rest of my student career at Cal Poly, I took all the plant protection science classes that were offered: vertebrate pest management, advanced weed management, insect pest management, plant pathology, biological pest control, etc. Going through the plant protection program was easy enough. The program takes an integrated management approach to controlling pests which basically means that you monitor as much as you can (intro: Bug Detective), and then use the least invasive controls first before progressing to chemical controls, in addition to coming up with plans to use several different control measures in conjunction with one another. The program really makes you think about all of our impacts on natural ecosystems as well as on cropping and ornamental nursery systems.

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The plant protection science program is comprehensive and prepares the student to take his or her Pest Control Advisor’s (PCA) license exam once graduated. Once I graduated, I had all the necessary educational requirements fulfilled for me to be able to take the PCA; and I passed the test my first time. The testing was in depth. But fortunately, Cal Poly professors tailor the plant protection science classes to uniquely prepare Cal Poly grads for the PCA test, as well as preparing the student to take his or her Qualified Applicators License (which is the next license I plan on receiving). PCA exam preparation lectures are also held periodically at Cal Poly for some extra help.

After I graduated, the Horticulture Unit was in need of a pesticide technician and I filled the position as I was studying to take my PCA exams. I really loved this experience. Sure it had some downsides that really taught me that maybe I do not want to do this in the future—by “this” I mean wearing a full Tyvek suit and respirator applying pesticides in a hot greenhouse in the middle of summer. I am not cut out for the heavy labor of being a pesticide applicator, but I do love to scout and recommend control measures. It also showed me that my education prepared me for real world experiences. My best friends during my position were my notes from previous classes I’ve taken, as well as the computer sites and databases that our professors have told us about so many times that we have them memorized.

As the pesticide technician at the Horticulture unit, my days consisted of monitoring the greenhouses and outdoor nursery and landscaped areas at the unit, identifying various damaging signs and symptoms, making recommendations for control measures for various weed pests, insect and mite pests, and plant pathogens, and applying those control measures that would best resolve our pest problems. I worked closely with the Horticulture Unit technician, Ellen Brack, PCA as well as with Dr. Rob Shortell, PCA and students who were growing their various enterprise projects in the greenhouses.

For instance, I had to take care of the reoccurring whitefly problems that come with growing poinsettias, and I had to monitor and work closely with the students in charge of the poinsettia growing to implement control measures. But one of the first things you want to make sure you know before diagnosing and treating a problem are the historical facts at play:

  • Poinsettias are susceptible to whitefly
  • Every year we grow poinsettias (usually by cuttings) we have whitefly affecting the crop
  • Even when we start with certified clean stock cuttings, we have whitefly affecting the crop
  • Historical weather data; pertinent environmental changes that could affect the reproductive cycles of whitefly
  • Whitefly is present on other crops in the neighboring greenhouses
  • Chemical controls are recorded and dated with corresponding graphs to measure effectiveness of control so we know what kind of effects our different control measures have over time

Knowing the answers to these types of questions prior to the establishment of the crop in the greenhouse allows us to use preventative measures, and physical and mechanical measures first, when they will be most effective and preventing a population to establish. Being proactive and consistent are the most important qualities in a PCA and in an integrated pest management plan. And making sure that when you apply a control measure, that it is the most reasonable one and that it is implemented 100% correctly so that they can be as effective as possible in order to not waste time and money.

By recording every observation (monitoring), gathering historically relevant facts (researching), as well as following up on every control measure to rate its effectiveness (recording) and decide whether to incorporate a control measure into an integrated pest management plan that looks at the whole picture; not just its isolated units.

Positions at Cal Poly are unique because it is Learn by doing. You have all the support you can get to prevent you from making mistakes, but even if you make a mistake and say burn all the plants with the wrong dose of pesticides, you do not get fired or ruin your career. Instead, you catch some flak, learn from your mistakes, and try to amend the situation. The position was equally challenging to control all pests at the unit, as well as to use and expand my knowledge base. I had the flexibility to try out different sprayers, different chemicals, various application methods, gain experience using beneficial insects, etc. I came away with probably a larger variety of knowledge than a lot of pest control advisors who have worked in one or two crops their whole careers. I got to work with such a variety of pests and crops and environmental situations that I feel almost like a jack of all trades- a little knowledge about everything pest related!

 

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Useless?! Try Vital! A response to Yahoo!’s article “College Majors That Are Useless”

Posted by: Brean

Studying horticulture opens up doors around the world -- Here I am at Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid, Spain in August of 2011. One of the most gorgeous public gardens I've ever seen!

As future leaders within the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, we know better than to believe what is written in the article College Majors That Are Useless by Terrence Loose on Yahoo! Education.

Everyday – sometimes multiple times per day – we are receiving emails from our department about internships and career opportunities within crop science, landscape, public horticulture, turfgrass and sports field management, plant protection science, and greenhouse and nursery plant production all over the state, the country, and the world. That’s right: everyday, employers within these fields are seeking us to work for them!

Not to mention, the types of positions available to us are not only production-based (which is what Loose claims), but rather, they encompass a broad range such as marketing and sales representatives, research scientists, quality assurance managers — just to name a few. People may also be surprised to find out that the average starting salary for a graduate in the agriculture industry is almost $49,000 (according to the AgCareers.com/ AgrowKnowledge Enrollment and Employment Outlook Report and the AgCareers.com Compensation Benchmark Review).

Let’s also talk about the issue of “uselessness” of our degrees. The whole basis of our education is to provide food, flora, and fiber for the world. We might be so bold in making the statement that our degrees are, on the contrary, useful. According to the latest data from AgCareers.com, 81% of jobs in the ag industry require education beyond high school and almost half require at least a bachelor’s degree.  According to the AgCareers.com/AgrowKnowledge Enrollment and Employment Outlook Report in 2008 there was a deficit of 9,317 graduates with agriculture degrees to fill open positions in the U.S.

We are the future of agricultural and environmental plant sciences, and have taken responsibility to provide food, flora, and fiber sustainably and efficiently in a booming world population. With an increasing demand for high-quality and nutritious foods; advances in agriculture, science and technology; a growing population and a need to produce more with less, there are, in fact, a wide variety of rewarding, well-paid career opportunities in agriculture!

Those of us who are Agricultural and Environmental Plant Science majors at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo know the importance of our degrees and viability of our future careers!