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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Emilia Zabegay: A Curious Observer of Nature

Emilia Zabegay is a greenhouse assistant at Morris Arboretum and does creative freelance horticulture for private clients. She is also on the leadership team at Women in Hort (WinH). Emilia is quite the Rennaissance woman. She is curious about everything and isn't afraid to ask poignant questions that get to the meat of a subject. Here we discuss everything from naturalistic containers to personal heroes and what she enjoys about being part of WinH.

Thanks to Emilia for taking time out to do this Q&A and all the work you do for WinH!

WinH: What type of horticulture training do you have? EZ: I graduated from Temple University with my bachelor's in horticulture and the bulk of my hands-on experience comes from public garden settings as well as nursery work.

WinH: What is one of your favorite memories with the WinH group? EZ: A memory that still really lingers with me was actually my first with WinH. It was a volunteer day held at the Ambler Arboretum shortly after a tornado caused by Hurricane Ida. Ida had hit and devastated the arboretum's living collections. Seeing dozens of volunteers gathered to lend a hand with planting and rescuing plants from damaged areas struck a deep chord with me and gave me a much-needed sense of hope. That was a difficult time for many of us, but that day all I could feel was a deep sense of appreciation for everyone involved. That experience really instilled a desire in me to become more involved with WinH, and the rest is history.

WinH: Who are some of your idols and why do you look up to them? EZ: One figure I've drawn inspiration from is Rosa Luxemburg, a writer, philosopher, and anti-war activist who began her career studying botany and zoology before switching gears to political science. She stood fiercely behind her beliefs for social change and equality despite being met with discrimination, multiple imprisonments, and life threatening political intimidation. Her resilience in the face of so much pressure just leaves me in awe. Growing up, I also really admired Jane Goodall. She was one of the first female role models I was exposed to in a scientific field and her passion for conservation really moved me. However, these days I honestly find myself looking up to the women I meet and work with on a day-to-day basis more than anything else. I'm surrounded by so many strong, kind, and intelligent women and I feel very grateful for what those relationships have given me along the way.

WinH: What types of creative projects do you enjoy doing in a garden setting? EZ: So far, designing containers and flower arrangements have been areas where I can really let my creativity flow but I would love more opportunities to experiment with garden design in a unique way. There is a public garden in Toronto (Toronto Music Garden) that was designed as a 3-dimensional interpretation of Bach's First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. They use aspects like color, shape, and symmetry to make a musical piece come to life symbolically. Creative ways of playing around with garden design like that really excite me.

Logs, greens, mushrooms and a bird's nest adorn a winter container created by Emilia

WinH: Where do you get inspiration for your incredible naturalistic containers? EZ: It's usually a spontaneous process where I end up drawing inspiration from nature directly around me. Fall and winter containers require gathering a lot of natural materials in particular which gives me a chance to slow down and really appreciate how interesting the structure of a seed pod or branch might be that I could have overlooked otherwise. I love incorporating those different elements to showcase how remarkable the diversity in nature is and how they can be combined in so many different ways to create a harmonious whole.

A winter container at Morris Arboretum showcasing a mix of found materials in an elegant arrangement.

WinH: What do you hope people get out of participating in WinH events?

EZ: Personally speaking, I know I walk away from each event having learned something new and with a deeper appreciation for fellow plant nerds. I hope everyone finds their own special take away, but above all else I hope they experience a shared sense of community and feel like they belong to a caring and supportive network of people.

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