These are the leading minds in the field of horticulture.
Meet Leslie Finical Halleck. Leslie, 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.
Name: Leslie Finical Halleck
Years of work in profession: 22
Occupation: Horticulturist, Green Industry Consultant
Current place of employment: Halleck Horticultural
What is your earliest garden memory?
My earliest gardening memory would be watering tulips with my mother, an avid gardener. I’d say I was about two years old. I believe there is also photographic evidence of this moment! I was always surrounded by gardening, be it by my mother, and all my adopted “grandmothers” around our neighborhood. As an army brat who grew up all over the place, I always gravitated towards older women who gardened and that’s where I’d spend my time after school.
What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?
I was always an outdoorsy type, but planned from a very early age be a professional artist. I spent two years in art school during college before admitting to myself that I had the horticulture bug and needed to give in to a bit of science. So I changed my major to Biology focusing in Botany. I also began working at a local garden center at the same time as well as doing a lot of field work in plant ecology studies. That pretty much sealed the deal. I went on to secure my M.S. in Horticulture.
Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?
Previously, I’ve worked in research, public gardens and garden center retail. I left a GM position with an IGC in Dallas, North Haven Gardens, and a year ago and started my own horticultural consulting business.
I’ve transitioned into what I consider a bit of a new industry niche. While I still perform technical horticultural consulting services for businesses, botanical gardens and a few residential clients, my main focus is helping green industry businesses with their marketing, financial and staffing strategies. My goal is to help those of us in the green industry improve perception of value for our services. As a horticulturist, I’m able to generate technically correct and relevant digital and print content for them, as well as help define their overall marketing strategies. That includes rebranding companies, building new website, managing their digital content and social media and creating advertising pieces. I work with my clients on business strategy and even help recruit and train staff.
I come at this new work from inside the industry as someone who has worked in and run the kinds of businesses I’m now helping. It’s the perfect fusion of my creative, horticultural and businesses skills. It’s very exciting and I’m so happy to be able to help my fellow industry folks succeed in their businesses.
How long have you been in the horticulture business?
Going on 22 years. I started working at the local garden center at age 19 (or maybe it was 18…I’m starting to get too old to remember!)
What is your personal garden style?
Chaotic plant collections with rhythm. I’m not a landscape designer, I’m a plant collector. But the artist in me has distinct preferences for color, texture and patterns. So while my gardens initially evoke a feeling of overwhelming chaos, there are very intentional color combinations and repetitions that come out and anchor the space.
Tell me about your first plant love?
Well, my very first plant was a bird’s nest fern. So I still have special place in my heart for that one. As tends to be the norm, what followed was a love affair with indoor plants (The gateway drug to gardening)…then orchids, carnivorous plants and Bonsai. But once I had some bare earth outdoors I could actually work on my own, I’d have to say I perennials became the next love. But really, how can one choose?
Who inspired you in your career and how?
Carol Watson, who owned The Green Fiddler Nursery in Denton, Texas, was my first boss in the industry. She is an amazing strong woman with a no-nonsense and tough approach to her business. She did everything at that nursery from haul plants to payroll. I have to say that looking back, she really set the example and tone for me moving forward in my career. She hired this newbie Botany student and gave me my entry into the horticulture world. She was tough, but caring. I can’t thank her enough.
I also worked with Dr. Royal Heins in graduate school. I really admired his intellect and strategic approach to his work. He set a high bar to work towards and I really appreciate that. Dr. Bridget Behe, another Michigan Stater, is also someone I consider a kindred spirit in the industry. There are so many other people to mention, but not enough space!
What is your favorite garden setting?
Whichever setting I happen to be in at the moment! I suppose I prefer a sunny location which allows for an abundance of roses, succulents, blooming perennials and vegetables.
What is your favorite planting style?
It’s too hard to choose because I’m an equal opportunity gardener. I’ve spent a lot of time in various jungles and so I’m in love with lush tropical settings. However, I have a special love for succulents and so also love dry-gardening collections. I’m always drawn to traditional perennials borders as well and love formal gardens. As a big vegetable gardening, I love landscapes that incorporate edibles. I guess if you looked at my own garden, you’d see all of these styles blended together.
What advice can you give others considering the field of horticulture?
Quit whining. I hear a lot of that these days from folks entering the industry. It’s a waste of time and energy. Put that energy into building your skills instead. Get your hands dirty. Period. No matter what part of the industry you see yourself working in, you need hands-on gardening experience; both at home and in a professional capacity. Yes, it’s hard work and no, a lot of newbies don’t want to do it. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty and do some sweating, you really shouldn’t be going into horticulture. Second, get educated, but do it with a plan. Research the industry, job market and salaries first, before you decide on a degree plan or whether or not to obtain an advanced degree. Then put your nose to the grind stone and be prepared to put in a lot of time to build your base of knowledge. Don’t expect a big salary the second you step off the graduation stage. Be willing to do some internships and realize that in this field, it can take time to build credentials, and earnings. Join professional organizations early – don’t wait until your 40. Yes, dues are expensive. Yes, they are a good investment. Networking is an essential part of career building and this industry is full of wonderful people willing to help you. If you dedicate yourself and stick with it, you can do very well in this business while doing something you still love.
If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?
As an army brat, I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life and seen many, many gardens. But I’ve never been to New Zealand so that’s at the top of my bucket list at the moment.
If you could go with any one person, who would it be?
Ok, now you’re going to get me in trouble. So I’ll give you my PC answer first. Of course, I’d want to go with my husband, Sean! Then, my regular travel partner, Nikki Rosen. BUT, if we’re talking about a garden-centric trip, then of course I have to go with Jimmy Turner, my gardening BFF. Now, if I had to pick a “fantasy” person, I’d go with Charles Darwin.
What was your most valuable training?
I can’t say I’ve had any invaluable training. I’ve worked in many segments in the industry and each has been incredibly valuable in getting me where I am today, including my formal education. Doing field work in remote locations really opens your mind and gives you an edge in research and publishing. I would say that being responsible for running an IGC top to bottom for 8 years really took my business skills to a high level – I’m not sure I would have ever gotten that knowledge from my other experiences or training. It is certainly what has helped me launch and run my own business. But again, it’s the combination of all the hands on work and education that is important for me.
How can people contact you: email, fb, LinkedIn, Twitter, website, etc.?