Garden Talent: Lee Goldsmith

Posted by on November 12, 2013

Going forward….

These are the bright young minds going forward into the field of horticulture.

Meet, Lee Goldsmith. Lee, thanks for sharing with Gardening with Confidence! And thank you for all you do!

Please visit the Gardeners going forward category (on this blog) for other interviews of bright young minds.

Lee Goldsmith



Name: Lee Goldsmith

Age: 28

Occupation: Plant Biologist and Educator

Place of Employment: Des Moines Area Community Collage (DMACC), Independent

What is your earliest garden memory?

I can recount every last plant growing around my childhood home in McHenry, Illinois, because each plant held a unique value. Mom would like me to tell how we sat together on our stools, when I was very little, and eat the freshest berries right off the grapevine. Dad would want me to tell about the sugar maple he planted for me the day I was born, and how he measured my milestones with those of the tree. He spent decades casting this spell as we grew, forever binding my life to that of the trees.

But my first memory is of the giant arborvitae, growing just outside the front door. When I was a child, it was as tall as our ranch-style house. Before I left home, my parents added a third level to the house, but the tree grew taller still.

Arborvitae means “tree of life.” And it was the tree of my young life. Seasons were observed as the tree cast it’s seeds or fledged new birds. Years were counted as the trunk swelled and I grew strong enough to climb it’s limbs. Difficult lessons were learned when a spring fledge was found lifeless on the ground, never having left the shelter of its home. Friendships were forged, tested and restored in games that circled and looped around the arborvitae.

Since I left home, I have encountered and known many plants, but none that share my history as the arborvitae does.

What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?

My undergraduate advisor told me that my direction would be influenced by “where the money is.” She was correct. At the age of three, I was determined to devote my life to natural-resource conservation, and studied Ecology at the University of Northern Iowa. I began volunteering at the UNI Botanical Center and was soon picked up “Undergraduate Research Assistant” by Dr. Jean Gerrath, who paid me a stipend. Under her excellent advisement, I learned gained skills in microscopy, propagation and viticulture, and learned much about her expertise, the Vitaceae and plant morphology. After she inspired me to continue my education, she helped me find a position as a Master’s student at Iowa State University under Dr. Gail Nonnecke and Dr. Paul Domoto, who had money for a student. Two-and-a-half more concentrated years and dozens of fantastic experiences later, I was a committed horticulturist.

Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?

I am an adjunct instructor for DMACC environmental science and life-science tutor. As an independent, I work with individual organizations or agencies to develop horticulture/ plant-science based educational programs. Each organization has different objectives and visions, but most of my work involves matching the organization’s mission and educational interests with STEM concepts and Iowa Core or Next Generation Science Standards.

How long have you been in the horticulture business?

My career in horticulture began about nine years ago.

What is your personal garden style?

I adore the wild woodlands and prairies of the great plains and mountain areas, and I enjoy gardens that mimic that aesthetic and provide resources for people and wildlife.

Tell me about your first plant love?

“The Climbing Tree” was a boxelder in our front yard. It was self-sown, grew through stress and disease, and had become a “snag” by the time I noticed it. Its knots provided perfect hand and  foot holds to climb, and it had limbs to seat my two constant friends from across the street. From those seats, we could reach sweet, purple mulberries growing from the shoots of the neighboring tree. It hosted a diversity of mosses, fungus and insects. Anyone who spent time with that tree developed an inherent knowledge of species interconnections. I didn’t understand, at the time, why it was cut down. The new poplar was too small to climb, and too young and healthy to host any fascinating pests or maladies.

Who inspired you in your career and how?

Jean Gerrath inspired my scientific pursuits and promoted my confidence. She is recently retired from the University of Northern Iowa, where she was adored for her excellent plant anatomy class. Andy Talley at McHenry County Conservation District granted me my first internship as an education intern. This naturalist is so engaging that I believe he could make stone laugh and children sit still with rapt attention.

What is your favorite garden setting?

I enjoy quiet spaces full of curiosities. I want to discover something new to me, and have the mental solitude to explore on my own.

What is your favorite planting style?

I like to garden by color and season, but my ecological conscience ensures that I consider plant and animal communities too. Experience and education direct me in selection and placement of materials, so I can better avoid disease problems.

What advice can you give others considering the field of horticulture?

Cultivate a strong network of friends and colleagues. Always pursue knowledge, but be certain to develop unique marketable skills. Be flexible; life sciences teach us that we live in a dynamic and evolving world.

If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?

I have not been to Asia, and would love to experience its garden culture and foreign (to me) plants.

If you could go with any one person, who would it be?

I would travel with my husband. He is a chemist, and if I can tell him about a plant and it’s compounds, he can describe a chemical use for it. We learn a lot from one another.

What was your most valuable training?

My Masters work provided, perhaps, the most valuable training as a professional, researcher, technician, horticulturist, and courageous human being.

How can people contact you: email, fb, LinkedIn, Twitter, website, etc.?

Lee Goldsmith (FB. LinkedIn)

Leeplantbio (Twitter)




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