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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Anna Bower: Assistant Curator at Lotusland

WinH: What is your current position?

AB: I am the Assistant Curator of Living Collections at Ganna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara, CA. My position allows for a wide range of activities from plant records work (database updates and mapping), running the nursery, selling plants at our garden shop, and educating staff, volunteers and the public about plants.

WinH: What type of training did you do to get where you are?

AB: I have a B.A. in Environmental Science from Willamette University. Summers during college I worked for the parks department in my hometown of Edmonds, WA. After college I did year-long internships at both Longwood Gardens and the Morris Arboretum and then a master’s program in Plant Science at the University of Delaware with a focus in botanic garden curation.

WinH: Did you always want to be in horticulture?

AB: I had always been interested in plants from a young age. I grew up gardening at home and with my Girl Scout troop, did research on plants in undergrad, and worked for the campus grounds department at Willamette. It never dawned on me that there were careers in horticulture until I started the internship at Longwood. I had no idea there were so many facets to the profession.

WinH: What drew you into plant curation?

AB: I enjoy the methodical aspect of tracking collections. Plant records work requires juggling a lot of details related to plant nomenclature and taxonomy. It can also feel like you are doing a lot of repetitive data entry, which I tend to enjoy. If you love Excel spreadsheets, curation might be for you!

I also love working outside in the garden, be it collecting propagation material, mapping and labeling, or taking photographs. And, I get to run into other people in the garden and talk plants.

WinH: After studying on the East Coast, and moving to the whole other side of the continent, how did you learn your new flora and garden plants? Did you try any avenues that weren't helpful?

AB: Relocating across the country multiple times really forces you to learn numerous plant palettes. When I first moved to Santa Barbara I felt very overwhelmed with the diversity of plants that can grow here. I moved to California right after graduate school where I had been teaching botany and native East Coast flora identification. Teaching other people how to look at plants honed my own skills. I try to focus on one plant group at a time, preferably one that is related to one I already know. One of my first projects at Lotusland was to inventory the Fern Garden. I only knew a handful of the ferns in the collection, but they were more familiar to me than all the palms, cacti, and euphorbia in the rest of the garden. I also know it takes at least three exposures to a new plant for me to remember its name and then I can build from that. I try to take a lot of pictures of new-to-me plants here in California. Then going through and labeling the photos gives me more contact. I also try to visit local nurseries and gardens as much as possible.

I’ve noticed it is difficult for me to learn plant names when I only hear them without writing them down and/or seeing the names printed.

WinH: How do you stay up to date on the topics in horticulture/curation?

AB: I like to get involved with local horticulture societies in my area. Here in Santa Barbara I am the president of the SB Cactus and Succulent Society, and a member of the SB Horticultural Society and the local chapter of the American Begonia Society. There are many other local groups I could be a part of, but I don’t have time! Luckily, at work I have access to other national and international plant society journals, like the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, Hardy Fern Foundation, and Bromeliad Society International, etc. I try to at least skim the contents and know I can revisit them later or look up information on their individual websites.

I also stay up to date with the American Public Gardens Association Plant Collections and Nomenclature/Taxonomy communities online and like to attend their annual conference.

WinH: What types of non-plant related hobbies do you have?

AB: A lot of my hobbies are plant related! I am really into natural dyeing/pigment making and have a community garden plot where I grow mostly dye plants and a few vegetables (although onions work for both). I also knit and am part of the Santa Barbara Fiber Arts Guild. Recently I have been getting into mushroom identification and using mushrooms for dyeing. I also enjoy playing old-time fiddle tunes at a jam in town. We play in a park on Wednesday evenings and at community events. And I enjoy hiking and backpacking. It should be a good year for wildflowers in California with all the rain we have been getting.

WinH: Any advice for young people hoping to get into the green industry that they might not have heard already?

AB: Try different internships and volunteer opportunities that interest you. You never know how one experience might lead to another. I didn’t know botanic garden curation was a career path until I was interning at Longwood Gardens and it still took years of exposure and volunteering in the field to realize that’s what I wanted to pursue. All of the people I met along the way were essential in furthering that goal and good references when I applied to graduate school and for the job I have now.

Many thanks to Anna for taking the time to do this Q&A with Women in Hort!

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