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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

From Cytotechnology to Green Roofs: Louise Clarke has done it all

Updated: Apr 6, 2018

Louise Clarke was nominated to be our featured horticulturist for April. Eva Monheim nominated her, because "Louise Clarke is an amazing horticulturist! She takes care of 67 acres at Bloomfield Farm - the private side of Morris Arboretum. She is not only a wonderful plant's woman, she is an amazing scientist!!"

Louise was a good sport, and did this Q&A with Women in Horticulture, and provided the inspiring images from her work on Bloomfield Farm's intensive green roof.

Photo Credit: Kirk Brown

WinH: What is your current role in horticulture?

LC: As the Bloomfield Farm horticulturist at Morris Arboretum, I tend the 65 acre non-public side of the arboretum. Over 1,200 woody plants in the living collections call Bloomfield Farm their home, set in a historic landscape old fields, flood plains, meadows, and Springfield Mills, a restored grist mill. The platinum LEED Horticulture Center anchors Bloomfield Farm, and its sustainable features include geothermal wells, photovoltaic panels, cisterns to harvest rain water, rain gardens, and two green roofs. I select and teach interns, plan and coordinate Annuals sales at the yearly plant sale, and teach two courses yearly for the education department. I represent the arboretum as a Woody Plant Conference committee member, as well being a horticultural ambassador, most recently during my October 2017 trip to Perth, Western Australia.

I am an active member of GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. I speak regionally to lay and professional audiences on horticultural topics, as well as conduct hands-on workshops. GWA membership has expanded my network of garden communicator contacts, and afforded me entry to gardens public and private, supporting my interest in garden visitation.

For the last decade, I’ve been volunteering a weekend morning each month in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. I enjoy caring for the ornamental displays, watering in the back houses, and networking with Longwood’s horticultural staff.

My mission is to connect people and plants.

WinH: As someone that transitioned from another field, how did you make that switch, and what caused you to change careers?

LC: My parents fostered my appreciation of the natural world from a young age, taking me to places like John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Tyler Arboretum, and Longwood Gardens. In my former career as a cytotechnologist, a type of clinical laboratory scientist that diagnoses cancer, I found relief from the daily work pressures in my garden. I began taking horticulture classes at Temple Ambler for fun, never expecting to earn another degree. In my last laboratory position, I encountered the boss-from-hell, who increased my workplace stress beyond tolerable levels. I’d heard about the Longwood Graduate program in Public horticulture and decided to apply. I was not selected for the graduate program, so I then pursued a year-long horticulture internship at the Morris Arboretum. Being in the right place, at the right time, I assumed my superior’s role when she transitioned to another position in the arboretum, concurrently finishing my internship and my horticulture degree.

WinH: What is your current favorite herbaceous plant, and one current favorite woody plant?

LC: Herbaceous plant: broadly, tropicals- palms, cannas, bananas, colocasias

Woody plant: Pinus bungeana, Lacebark Pine

WinH: Who are you inspired by in horticulture?

LC: I am inspired by plant explorers like Ernest Henry (Chinese) Wilson, George Forrest, and David Fairchild, who made enormous contributions to Western horticulture. Locally, I am fortunate to have been mentored by Eva Monheim, who fostered my horticulture education and introduced me to GWA.

WinH: What changes would you like to see in our field to help the women working in horticulture advance or find equality in the workplace?

LC: The business world at large needs to recognize the value of plants as necessary for human life, and afford respect and appreciation for those who choose this profession. We who have developed the skills to nurture plants, feed our communities, heal our degraded environments, and preserve natural habitats, possess a broad array of skills that are sorely underappreciated and undervalued.

I believe groups such as Women in Horticulture, the Emergent FaceBook group, and the national initiative Seed Your Future, are the catalysts for change that can educate the community at large and elevate the horticulture profession’s status.

Being an advocate for yourself and engaging those in your sphere of influence are ways to personalize the important message that plants matter, and that you have the knowledge others lack, but need to thrive. Equitable compensation will only come when these skills are deemed to be in short supply, and recognized as vital for human and economic health.

Thank you, Louise for sharing your story!

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