Gardeners Going Forward…
These are the bright new minds going forward into the field of horticulture.
Meet, Amanda Plante. Amanda, thanks for sharing with Gardening with Confidence! And thank you for all you do!
Please visit the Garden Talent category (on this blog) for other interviews of bright young minds.
Name: Amanda Plante
Occupation: Graduate Teaching Assistant, formerly horticulture coordinator of “Every Child Outdoors” Knoxville
Place of Employment: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee
What is your earliest garden memory?
My earliest gardening memory is deadheading marigolds with my grandmother. Every spring she’d fill her whiskey barrel planter with orange marigolds, and she put me in charge of watering, weeding, and deadheading the planter.
What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?
I’ve always been interested in plants, and gardening in particular. My grade school science experiments typically had some kind of gardening component. I guess I really committed to becoming a horticulturalist as a junior in high school when I had the opportunity attend the Tennessee Governor’s School for Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. In addition to learning a lot about agriculture in general, I was able to earn college credit for a course in horticulture. After that I knew that plant sciences was the field for me.
Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?
Right now I’m a graduate teaching assistant for a landscape plant ID course. My job description involves the development and administration of tests, quizzes, and leading plant walks. I really enjoy teaching undergraduate students about horticulture.
Up until I started my current position as a GTA, I served as the horticulture coordinator for Knoxville’s “Every Child Outdoors” youth gardening project. My colleagues and I installed three youth gardens in the Knoxville area, including the Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum’s “Every Child Outdoors” youth vegetable garden. My favorite part of the job was teaching people about gardening – from pre-school age kiddies all the way up to retired folks from the neighboring community.
How long have you been in the horticulture business?
I’ve been employed in the field of horticulture since the fall of 2007. I was hired as a student intern at the University of Tennessee Gardens as an incoming freshman. I’ve bounced around between jobs since then (as someone in their early 20’s is wont to do), but they’ve all had a horticultural bent.
What is your personal garden style?
My personal garden style has been really inspired by Tracy Disabato-Aust’s The Well-Designed Mixed Garden. As much as possible, I try to blend plants of different texture, shape and color. I’m a little OCD, so if I’m starting a bed from scratch I need some symmetry to get things started. The plants themselves don’t necessarily need to be symmetrically planted, but a color, shape or texture needs to be mirrored nearby in the landscape. Once things start to mature and fill in, I’ll relax on the symmetry rule.
Trees, shrubs, and annuals tend to play minor roles in the gardens I’ve worked with. They’re present, but herbaceous perennials are the stars of the show. Even when we were installing the youth vegetable garden, the perennial border that surrounded the beds of annual vegetables had the most personality.
Tell me about your first plant love?
My first plant love was Syringia vulgaris or common lilac. We had a huge old specimen in the front yard of my childhood home in Massachusetts. I was told that it was at least 30 years old. I don’t think it had ever been cut until last summer, but the thick old canes were still very floriferous. To this day, the scent of lilacs will bring me back to playing fort with my little sister in that big old shrub while bees bobbed around the soft panicles.
Who inspired you in your career and how?
My advisor Dr. Susan Hamilton has been a real inspiration in my career. In the same way that a gardener will plant a seed, nourish it, and provide gentle direction, she has influenced my academic and career goals.
Early in my pursuit of my undergraduate degree, she told me that she could see me enjoying being a professor of horticulture. Five years later, when I realized that working in a garden in and of itself wasn’t satisfying my career desires, I knew that she had been right all along. That’s part of the reason why I’m now in graduate school.
In addition to helping me realize my career goals, Dr. Hamilton helped me develop as a horticulturalist. When I was a student intern at the UT Gardens, she let me be in charge of the perennial border. It was the most responsibility that I’d ever been given at that time. She gave me enough direction to get done what needed to be done, but she also gave me a lot of leeway to express my creativity.
It’s also important to say that Dr. Hamilton has always been quick to applaud a success and has never dwelled on a failure. I’m sure I’d be on a completely different track if it weren’t for her mentoring, and I wouldn’t be nearly as satisfied.
What is your favorite garden setting?
My favorite garden setting is a woodland garden. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work in a woodland garden setting, however, these types of gardens are usually my favorite areas when I visit a public or private garden.
What is your favorite planting style?
My favorite planting style is one that mimics nature. I don’t mean a planting style that looks like you stepped into a pristine forest or field, but one that has been inspired by that sort of environment.
What advice can you give others considering the field of horticulture?
My advice to others considering the field of horticulture would be to find your niche. Horticulture is actually a very broad field that offers a huge variety of disciplines and careers. There are three things I did early in my career that helped me find my niche. First, I read as much as I could about horticulture. This includes blogs, magazine articles, and scientific papers. Second, spend time with horticulturalists. This is a great way to learn about what people enjoy most about their jobs, and what folks have done to find their current position. Last, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. Start by volunteering with a few different types of programs in your area. Even if your town doesn’t have a true botanical garden, arboretum or conservatory, there will surely be opportunities to volunteer as a gardener. Consider helping with a school garden, an urban garden, or helping lead a horticulture workshop.
If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?
Someday I’d love to see the Chelsea Garden Show. Every year, I love looking at the photos of the displays and reading all the blogs and articles by the folks who attended. It probably won’t happen in the near future, but a girl can dream.
If you could go with any one person, who would it be?
I have a pretty solid group of cohorts who have been wonderful companions on past horticultural exploits. If I had to choose one person, it’d have to be my friend Morgan. We’ve driven thousands of miles to see gardens, exhibits, and horticultural symposia. She has an interesting perspective, and always picks up on things that I would have missed.
What was your most valuable training?
My most valuable training was earning a bachelors degree in plant sciences. I know that it’s possible to be informed and successful in the field of horticulture without a 4-year degree, but I’m pretty sure it would have taken me ages longer to learn all about gardening, greenhouses, botany, etc. if it weren’t conveniently condensed into eight semesters for me. If money is an issue, there are many horticultural institutions that offer scholarships and will consider investing in your future.
How can people contact you: email, fb, LinkedIn, Twitter, website, etc.?
Anything else you would like to share?
I’m not very far along in my career, but I hope that my experience has been helpful for readers. I’m always happy to make new friends in the field, regardless of whether they’re new to horticulture or have been settled in their careers for decades. Feel welcome to connect with me through any of the avenues listed above.