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  • Writer's pictureCat Meholic

Professional Show-&-Tell: Part II

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

This post is a summary of the second half of our Professional Show-&-Tell at the Morris Arboretum on January 19th. Presentations by Lucy Dinsmore and Martha Stephens are featured below. Notes from the open Q&A at the end of the event are included at the end due to the informative conversation that we had. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out Part I of this event's recap as well!

Lucy Dinsmore

Looking at Plants from Below

As a horticulturist with experience in two different sections of the Morris Arboretum and a tenure at Chanticleer, Lucy has seen a lot of plants. She has also witnessed the slow decline of plants that weren’t tended to or planted well. Through this presentation, Lucy explored the function of roots for overall plant health and form and told us in three steps how to fix some common problems. This was a useful presentation for the neophyte and expert alike.

Lucy Dinsmore (Photo: Hanna von Schlegell)

The single photo she used to highlight her presentation was the classic chart (pictured) of various species and their corresponding root masses. Lucy explained that the mass of leaves and stems directly correlates to the mass of roots. Through this relationship, researchers can better understand and create models for carbon sequestration statistics. This photo also highlighted the strategies plants exhibit to grow in harmony with others without competing for resources. Take a close look at the graphic. How does a plant’s top-growth differ by species? Can you see how their roots fit together like puzzle pieces? In forest ecosystems, a network of roots touch, graft, and warn each other of potential threats. This network occurs even across species!

Lucy showing off some roots at a WinH volunteer day at Stoneleigh

So, why does this matter in my garden? Lucy told us that the average lifespan of an urban tree is seven years. I hope this sends your mind racing to the impacts this has for both your garden and the larger ecosystem. This statistic was supported by Lucy’s personal observations when taking over a new area at the Morris Arboretum, where trees and shrubs planted within the last five years are routinely evaluated every winter.

When checking these plants, Lucy does a “tug and rock test,” pulling on the top of the plants and testing for how much they rock in the ground. She makes note of which don’t pass this test, and when she revisits them in summer, some are inevitably dead and others suffering.

To fix this, Lucy suggested three strategies:

1. Take the time to plant things properly: root prune, shake off soil, and return in future years to check for girdling roots.

2. Take care of soil compaction before planting: while roots are powerful, at a certain level of compaction, roots cannot penetrate the soil.

3. Amend the soil. Adding compost and biochar increases organic matter and cation exchange capacity, thereby decreasing nutrient leaching. Adding more organic matter to your soil increases its water holding capacity, so you have less stormwater runoff. Compost and biochar each have unique characteristics, so take some time and see how they can improve your plantings.

We appreciate Lucy taking the time to remind us of best practices and taking us back to school by reviewing important soil principles. One attendee, Anne Dixon, lauded Lucy’s presentation saying,

“Thanks to Lucy for challenging us to do things the right way. When public gardens (like the Morris) do things the right way, it helps the rest of us!”


Martha Stephens

Snow Shoveling? I’d Rather Not

Martha Stephens enjoying the sun and lack of snow

After her tenure at the Delaware Center for Horticulture, Martha was considering her next direction in horticulture. She knew she enjoyed working in the non-profit field, and as she reviewed her numerous job offers, she decided to stay in the non-profit sector. Kendal Crosslands Arboretum was where she selected to continue her career. She loved the mission, and the community atmosphere of the organization. During the application process Martha asked questions about some of the vague parts of the job description, but admits she wasn’t as thorough as she could have been. One question that plagued her was in-regards to a line that read “assist as needed”. She worried that it would entail snow-shoveling. When asked if she would be responsible for that the supervisor responded “You’ll definitely have a shovel in your hand.”

“How bad can that be?” she asked herself.

Kendal being a living and care facility for older adults, Martha didn’t realize how seriously the organization takes snow management. This is a 24/7 facility with residence of varying mobility levels, and both the residents and workers need to be able to get around the campus. She stated that “every speck needed to go, every sidewalk needed to be made safe”. It’s not that Martha didn’t want to ensure the safety of residents, but she understands that she only has so much energy and time to do what Kendal hired her for: horticulture, and the snow shoveling was getting in the way of that.

After some deliberation and thinking about her personal plans for the next few years, Martha decided that this was important enough to address with the leadership of Kendal. She was very direct, and honest when she told the higher-up that she only has about 6-8 years left of work, and that the residents have responded very favorably to the horticulture talent she brings to the organization. Martha asked “Can you remove snow shoveling from my job description?” and carefully added “If there’s no wiggle room here, I understand, and I’ll start looking for another job.” This sounds incredibly bold, but it was actually Martha being honest with herself. She wasn’t trying to shirk responsibilities, if Kendal needed this position to shovel snow, then it just wasn’t a good fit. Thankfully, the higher-up said “No! Don’t do that! We will find a way to make this work.”

Martha Stephens sharing her story without any slides

next steps were a bit tricky, but in the end, Kendal Crosslands found a way to make this situation for Martha better, increase available staff for snow management, and provide all staff on the property with the opportunity to make additional money. This conversation started with one woman being very honest with herself, taking the initiative to address an issue, and then ended up benefiting a whole organization! Martha said that she also asked for an office, computer, and her own business cards. Because she asked, the leadership at Kendal was able to see if they could make these improvements, and they did! The art of asking is a powerful tool, and Martha is a perfect example of what is possible.

We here at Women in Hort think that this is a professional fairy tale with a happy ending. We encourage you to look at your professional environment and ask yourself “What are some areas in my workplace I wish to improve?” Can you think of a way to make this happen? We can’t guarantee that your strategy will work, but maybe you’d surprise yourself with the results for trying.


Open floor discussion

After these great presentations we opened-up the floor for general discussion and questions. One of the first questions was:

“How do we take risks without experience, a network, or financial safety?”

Answers to this included:

“Take small risks to start”

“Connect yourself with a mentor, and can share their network”

“Never hesitate to just ask for help”

“Build your knowledge, and it will build your confidence” -Danielle Charlton

“Trust your gut, and know the level of risk you are comfortable taking”

“Has anyone dealt with woman-to-woman bullying in the workplace? How did you handle that?”

In response to this, many answers included ways to deal with general issues in the workplace regardless of gender:

“When students come to me with issues with others, I always encourage them to speak in “I” statements. This helps to get to a resolution that is fair” -Jackie Ricotta

Kathy Salisbury shared the results from a colleague studying peer-to-peer bullying in nursing. The results stated that this bullying was “a reflection of the culture of the place, not the person” meaning that it can be engrained in “corporate culture”.

To help prevent this “set boundaries early in the workplace. It’s harder to go back and set boundaries, then it is to set them at the beginning.” -Julie Morse

“Address small issues in the moment to help prevent it from getting beyond your control”

Eve Mahoney shared her perspective for how the industry has changed “It used to be just a handful of us at meetings. Back then we were afraid to bond with each other. Now you see so many women at events, and we support each other”

“What are some tips and tricks for better communication?”

Danielle Charlton shared that she likes to ask for feedback from those she is working with to ensure she is a good employer and coworker. She asks things like “How am I doing?” and “Do you enjoy working with me?” Being direct and opening yourself up for critiques first can open valuable conversations for all parties.

Julie Morse shared a tiny bit of wisdom with a big message: “We are only as good as our communication”

Lucy Dinsmore stated that the books “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and “Lean In” made her a little skeptical upon first hearing about them. But she gave them both a chance and found their strategies very valuable. She stated, “everything we do in life comes down to communication.”

Photos to this point have been provided by: Hanna von Schlegell and Louise Clarke


Thanks to the many individuals that contributed their time and talent to make this event a success! Louise and Lucy for managing the event space, Kathy Salisbury for coordinating speakers (and bringing cake), attendees for choosing to spend their Saturday with Women in Hort, and of course many thanks to all of our speakers for sharing their stories!

Interested in speaking at a Professional Show-&-Tell? We aim to host two a year. Contact to discuss.

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