It’s no secret that everyone at Tanglewood is passionate about what we do – from our founders, Alan and Nancy to our craftsmen in the shop, to the team of architects and engineers, to even our Hospitality Ambassador (front desk!) – we truly live and breathe conservatories, greenhouses and all things glass. But one other observation struck us – many of our clients and contacts are also very passionate about various topics such as gardening, art collecting, community activism, activities that all go hand in hand with the work we do at Tanglewood. As a result of this observation, we thought it would be intriguing, insightful and certainly interesting for us to ‘dig’ a little deeper over the upcoming year and explore these passions that surround us.
Tanglewood Conservatories is very excited to announce our partnership with Dea Schofield – a noted horticulturist. She will be working with Tanglewood to help ensure that a Tanglewood greenhouse is not only a beautiful building, but also optimized for functionality and to also give tips on plant care, systems, etc. She will be featured as a guest blogger on Tanglewood’s blog under the keywords, Dea Digs.
After extensive training to become a Master Gardener, I went on to teach classes on indoor/tropical/potted/container plants for future Master Gardeners. As a mom to an elementary-schooler, I needed to be available and working part-time at a nursery made that possible. I soon found myself being offered a horticultural position at Green Spring Gardens Park, in Virginia. Through them, I was able to obtain more training, which included seminars and lectures by pre-eminent people, hosted specifically for Smithsonian horticulturists, botanists, and biologists. Training included regular travel for field trips and lectures at places like Longwood Gardens or Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. I then found myself at Hillwood Museum and Gardens as greenhouse and floral display manager, where I also cared for the orchids there for many months (a huge, separate task that I cherished). Eventually, I struck out on my own in order to do design work, solve horticultural problems, and create gardens for others. Today, I have clients who say they just want my presence in their garden occasionally to be sure things stay green and happy—which is the utmost compliment.
As a child, I couldn’t stand to be inside. I wanted to be out exploring, looking for plants and creatures. My first memories of a fascination for plants involved the sensory excitement they induced. Pussy Willows and Birch Catkins were irresistible to an outdoorsy little girl. I think the first plant to intrigue me on an intellectual level was the Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica. Growing up in Germany, I discovered the plant was everywhere along roads and paths that were untended. From that early age, I knew there was something special about the herb. How could something that you could safely touch one way cause such discomfort when you touched it another? Why did it do that? Why were the fuzzy leaves sort of oily too? Why did people drink tea made of it? There was fun to be had with them too. I could get friends to shriek in horror by touching the tops of the leaves, knowing secretly that there were no trichomes, or stinging hairs, in that spot. Today, I know how to cultivate it and that the plant has been in medicinal service to humans for thousands of years. This kind of discovery is something I’m still crazy about.
It was also in Europe where I was exposed to the many variations on public gardens. From the manicured palace, castle and manor home gardens, to planted decoration of towns and cities, and individual homes and apartment windows, flowers were ubiquitous. For Europeans, the garden, both for food and enjoyment, was especially important. That rubbed off on me. When we moved to Texas for a few years, I truly missed the color of Europe—but there were other things to discover, like Prickly Pear (with its edible fruit!) and Bluebonnets. It was there where I had my very first potted plant—a Purple Velvet Plant, or Gynura aurantiaca. At twelve or thirteen, I found the fuzzy, purple leaves irresistible, much like the pussy willows. Little did I know that the cute, diminutive plant would become a small monster, not unlike my plant passion (which grew to much greater proportions).
After years of travel and living abroad, I was finally able to have my first greenhouse here in the States. That morphed into a career that went from extremist hobbyist to Master Gardener to Expert Horticulturist. Today, I have the same fascination for plants as that little girl who couldn’t resist them!
Cultivating the Passion
One way I cultivated my passion for gardening was through education—constantly learning is not only essential to truly engaging in a passion, but I’m addicted to it as well! I love to learn about the art and science of plants and their cultivation. You might call me a plant fanatic. There are multiple facets to horticulture and I’ve tried to learn about and become experienced with them all. I’ve also have had my own collections for decades and have cultivated innumerable varieties and species. I also visit gardens, natural areas and botanical gardens wherever I travel (I’m especially attracted to places with greenhouses and conservatories). It’s not hard to nurture something you love.
A Passion’s Impact
You probably won’t find a greater impact than having a hobby become a career! But here’s a brief tale of how much my love of plants affects how I think. Five years ago, I decided to reduce my carbon footprint significantly. I donated, gave away, and sold-off most of my collection and greenhouse in the process. But there was no way I’d live without plants. I checked out places and none felt adequate (despite being lovely inside), until one day I stepped into an older condo that was south-facing with floor-to-ceiling windows and overlooked a tree-covered hill. It was just a simple, large studio—but it had a great balcony. Due to the perfect direction for growing and the huge, green view, I took it on the spot. Today, I grow herbs, orchids and other tropicals—and my favorite, Passion Flowers. The vines love to cover the balcony railings by summer’s end. Then everyone but the hardy herbs comes in for winter. I chose my living space based on the needs of plants!
Top Secret Revealed
As a master horticulturist, the best advice I can give is to LISTEN. Listen to what your plants are saying and that will enable you to nurture them and meet their needs. For example, I walked into a very hot and humid greenhouse one day with my client and many of the plants had lost their turgidity and ‘looked’ to be wilted. My clients first response was to set the sprinklers off and water all these ‘wilted’ plants. I was able to show my client that the plant’s wilted structure was not from lack of water (a quick finger check in the soil, which was moist) but from the high heat and humidity. As soon as those variables returned to a more normal range for the plant, the turgidity would also rectify. Below is a picture of a Rose of Sharon – while the normal observer would see the flower and bee, a good ‘listener’ would also notice the plant has leaf scorch. The leaf scorch could be because it’s in too dry of a location, or because an A/C unit blew on it, or both.