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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Professional Show-&-Tell: Part I

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Kathy Salisbury introducing the speakers

On January 19th Women in Horticulture gathered for our favorite event, the Professional Show-&-Tell! Traditionally, this event gives six speakers ten minutes each to present on a topic of their choosing. This year, we added a twist, giving speakers the challenge of using as few slides as possible for their presentation. This theme, “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words” was inspired by a previous speaker at this same style event, Laureen Griffin. Through her talented storytelling, Laureen vividly captured her path and inspirations in horticulture without the use of any slides. This format isn’t for the faint of heart. Kathy Salisbury, who coordinated the speakers for the January 19th event had plenty of people turn down speaking the speaking opportunity due to the restrictions of the number of photos. Six brave women stepped forward to share their stories without sharing too many slides.

Lara Roman

Forgotten Contributions: Ellen Harrison at the University of Pennsylvania

Lara Roman (Slide: Charles Custis & Ellen Harrison) Photos courtesy of the University Archives and Records Center at Penn

Our first speaker, Lara Roman, is an ecologist with the USDA Forest Service who researches the temporal dynamics of urban forests, including how legacy effects impact urban forest change over time and contemporary patterns. Her presentation was centered around the hidden, but lasting impacts of Ellen Harrison, the wife of Provost Charles Custis Harrison at the University of Pennsylvania. Although her life’s work was at the turn of the 20th century, it still impacts existing greenspace in and around Philadelphia. Ellen Harrison was not a professional in horticulture, but she was still a powerhouse – an advocate and fundraiser for urban greening. From Lara’s research, she shared a quote about Ellen Harrison from a University archivist: “Every tree, shrub, and blade of grass that grew on that campus she either planted or supervised and she paid for the lot”. So, what were some of Ellen Harrison’s projects that still exist, and why is her name not remembered? Those are good questions! The answers of which you will find in the forthcoming peer-reviewed article that Lara Roman has so meticulously researched. You can also check out the already published story of urban forest development on the Penn campus, which mentions Ellen Harrison and a host of other characters, here:

Lara Roman "cheating" with a slide that has four images

Lara Roman also shared some of her favorite books related to her passions. She recommends the children’s book “The Tree Lady” by H. Joseph Hopkins it is a true-tale about the “Olmstead” of San Diego – Kate Sessions – complete with gorgeous illustrations. That book was based on a biography, “Kate Sessions: Pioneer Horticulturalist” by Elizabeth C. MacPhail. Another book “How Women Saved the City”, by Daphne Spain, centers around the impact of women in the urban landscape between the civil war and World War I; this book focuses on social causes championed by women but also includes their contributions to tree planting efforts.

Jackie Ricotta

New Adventures

When Kathy Salisbury read the speaker bio for Jackie, we were all impressed by her accomplishments and long career in the industry. She has her Doctorate in Horticulture from the University of Illinois and has developed numerous agriculture programs with best practices in the area. This background created powerful contrast with her admission that despite her hard work, she still has moments where she feels underappreciated professionally. But, she stated, she “loves (her) students, and they are the reason to get up in the morning”. That passion for teaching has not changed in the course of her 18 years at Delaware Valley University.

Jackie Ricotta (Photo: Hanna von Schlegell)

This honesty from such an accomplished professional was refreshing and helped her audience to understand why her next step of taking a sabbatical was indeed a perfect fit. Jackie shared that the root of the term “sabbatical” comes from “sabbath”, a time of rest. When choosing a location for her sabbatical, she thought carefully on when she was most inspired by horticulture and at her happiest. Her undergraduate tenure at Cornell was this place and was the beginning of her passion for horticulture. After some research, an email, and then finally picking up a phone, Jackie connected with Dr. Chris Smart, Director of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell University. Chris and her colleague, Steve Reiners, connected Jackie to the resources she needed, and a few months later Jackie was headed off to college again!

Jackie Ricotta in her "Cornell red" scarf

Jackie shared that the staff and community at Cornell were incredibly welcoming. They provided her with an office, a Cornell email, and encouraged her to attend classes. She sat in on four classes, gave a department seminar, and met with under-grad and graduate level students. Jackie beamed at the audience as she said; “It was really wonderful to be someone special at Cornell.” After four months of being at Cornell, Jackie says that she is “rejuvenated” and excited to take a more adventurous direction with her career. But first, she is taking a trip back to Cornell this April and invites other women in horticulture to tag along!

Louise Clarke & Eva Monheim

Through Different Lenses

Business partners, colleagues, and friends. That sums up just part of the relationship between Louise and Eva. For women that have such a strong connection, they showed us that they each have a unique perspective in horticulture. Their presentation illustrated to us that even when looking at the same garden (and they have been to hundreds of gardens together) they perceive spaces in beautifully different ways.

From a Garden Communicator’s tour to Surreybrooke Garden and Nursery in Frederick, Maryland, they selected photos of the same subject but each perceived it differently. These photos were displayed side-by-side, and we were treated to short explanations as to why each photographer chose their visual photo memory. Louise identifies herself as a scientist by training, and Eva an artist. This was not evident in their photographs, but it was evident in their explanations of their photography style.

Photos of a log cabin on the property (pictured) had Louise interested in the depth of “vignettes” within the image, and Eva was inspired to capture the “sweeping” vantage point of her photo by a fallen log in the woods. Another subject of an old farmhouse allowed Louise to focus on the “pop of color” and she aimed to frame the house with the garden. Eva chose an angle that eliminated that same “pop of color” and emphasized the house being “framed by the landscape”.

This presentation was a look at both the art of horticulture and the art of photography and the science of how humans differ in their perception of a space. We hope to see an extended version of this talk from two talented speakers!


That concludes Part I of the event recap, be sure to check out Part II that summarizes Lucy Dinsmore's presentation "Looking at Plants from Below", Martha Stephen's talk "Snow shoveling? I'd rather not?", and notes from the open Q&A closing out the event.

Photos: Hanna von Schlegell & Cat Meholic

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