Garden Talent: Quill Teal-Sullivan

Posted by on December 10, 2013

Quill Teal-Sullivan

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

Meet Quill Teal-Sullivan.  Quill, 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.


Quill Teal-Sullivan



Name: Quill Teal-Sullivan

Age: 28

Occupation: Horticulturalist

Place of Employment: Meadowburn Farm

Where you went to college: Colorado College (BA) Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture (MS)

What is your earliest garden memory?
When I was about five years old my mother allotted my sister and I each a small garden bed. We got to choose the plants that we wanted to put in it. That was my very first personal garden, and likely my first educational experience in gardening.

What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?
I knew that I wanted to be in the field of plant sciences since high school when I realized there were actual professions affiliated with what I loved most – plants and gardening. Botany and plant physiology were too scientific and did not seem to accommodate my desire for creativity and to create and impact my physical environments, or my need to nurture. A semester studying at the University College Dublin, Ireland, and a summer internship during college at the Mendocino Coast Botanic Garden opened my eyes to the breadth of possibility for a career in the field of horticulture.

Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?
I am currently overseeing rehabilitation of a six-acre historic garden that was built at the turn of the century by Helena Rutherfurd Ely. As a Fellow in the Longwood Graduate Program, I spent two years researching these gardens for my master’s thesis. When I graduated the owners of the property hired me to bring the gardens back to life. In addition to overseeing the restoration, I am responsible for developing a business that will generate revenue from the garden to help support the cost of maintenance. My responsibilities include everything from daily garden maintenance, to restoration planning, to marketing and public relations.

How long have you been in the horticulture business?
My first paying job in horticulture was at the age of six. My aunt hired me to help at her flower farm in the San Juan Islands for the summer, probably for about 2 hours a day. I think my biggest contribution was hauling big bunches of amaranth and zinnias from the fields back to the barn. I worked for her again in high school tending the flower fields and arranging bouquets. Perhaps a more legitimate entry into the hort business was during summers in college when I would work for my mother’s garden design business. So, I would say I have been in the business between 11 to 22 years, depending if you count my job at the age of six.

What is your personal garden style?
Formal bones, informal plantings. Boxwood, clipped hedges, climbing roses, moss, billowing heirloom peonies, old rhodies, snowdrops everywhere, Japanese anemones, ferns. Loosey-goosey within defined, structured space. A bit wild, but with structure.

Tell me about your first plant love?
There was a lipstick red rhodie that grew outside my house when I was a little kid, and I used to play under its big branches. One day I came home and my mother had chopped it down. I was heart broken and cried all day. She pulled a moss covered branch out of the dumpster, and we hung it on the chicken coop as a commemoration to my beloved red rhodie. I think that branch is still hanging there.

Who inspired you in your career and how?
In chronological order:

My mother – she introduced me to a love of gardening at a very young age.

My father – He introduced my sister and I to history and design during long tours of architecture in D.C. or Italy or Greece. He would tell us about the architectural philosophy, influences and history of the sites, but the whole time I was looking out the windows to the gardens. I think visiting all those old buildings fostered my interest in historic gardens.

My high school bio and botany teachers – they brought science to life, and told me I was talented and encouraged me when all other science and math teachers wanted to hold me back.

William Robinson – I read all his books through and through while studying in Ireland. His gardening philosophy has deeply impacted my own.

Shane Heschel, my plant physiology professor and advisor in college – he made plant physiology so fun, and supported the research projects that I was interested in purely because they interested me.

Lily Ricardi of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden – she put her heart into every plant she cared for, and she saw the importance of encouraging young gardeners.

Lucy Tolmach of Filoli – Lucy was my first true mentor and cheerleader in the field of public horticulture. She saw potential in me and expressed it. That gave me courage and confidence. She took time to educate me and to answer my questions and to share her experiences. She was the first person to tell me that my skills and passion for horticulture could take me places. I owe a lot to Lucy and her faith in me.

Glenn Withey and Charles Price of the Dunn Historic Garden Trust – Glenn and Charles hired me as the gardener at Dunn Gardens. Again, it was the faith they had in me and their willingness to educate me that meant so much. Their aesthetic has also influenced my personal garden design preferences.

Bill Noble of the Garden Conservancy – Bill introduced me to Meadowburn during my first year in the Longwood Graduate Program. During my thesis research he pushed me, he tested me, and he challenged me.

Helena Rutherfurd Ely – During my research I became deeply engrossed in the history of Meadowburn and Helena Rutherfurd Ely. She was an amazing woman for her time – she made gardening an accessible activity for women. I admire her, and am passionate about bringing her story and garden back to life.

What is your favorite garden setting?
The wild mountain meadow gardens of the Cascade Mountains and Talkeetna Mountains. These are amazing naturally existing gardens. Does that count? If not, a woodland garden in the Pacific Northwest.

What advice can you give others considering entering the field of horticulture?
Experience is essential – be an intern several times over in different places.

If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?
I would like to go to England, France, Italy, and Spain to visit the gardens that influenced Helena Rutherfurd Ely. Japan is also high on that list.

If you could go with any one person, who would it be?
Likely my father – we travel well together because we get hungry at the same time. My mother would also be a great companion, but she is like a camel and can walk around forever without sustenance – meanwhile I get very grumpy.

What was your most valuable training?
The internship I did at Filoli was amazing. They have a very excellent program. I would recommend an internship at Filoli to any serious young horticulturalist.  The Longwood Graduate Program was a great experience, and helped me build skills and experience to take a step further in my career.

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

E-mail is the best.


One Response to “Garden Talent: Quill Teal-Sullivan”

  1. Riz Reyes says:

    Cool! She’s from the Northwest!

Leave a Reply