Why did you become a Certified Professional Horticulturist and how has this certification helped you?
I started my career in horticulture at Wells Medina Nursery, where I was hired as a seasonal employee. What an introduction! I was exposed to all kinds of wild and wonderful plant material, got to work alongside some of the smartest, most hard-working horticulturalists in the industry, and had to learn to “swim” fast. I had just finished working on a Master’s in Art History, so I had a couple of degrees, but no formal horticultural education. Customers would come in expecting expert advice and answers. I’d go home physically and mentally exhausted every day, then study my Sunset Western Garden Guide all evening, so that I’d be a little more fluent in plant names and helpful with answers each day. When a co-worker who was a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH) talked to me about the program, I knew that this was the perfect professional certification for me, as someone already working in the industry. I wanted to be a CPH very badly, to join that group of pros who have amassed the practical experience and passed the knowledge tests. After a few years at Wells Medina, I was hired as the Annual Buyer at Sky Nursery. Wham! Overnight, I inherited a huge multi-million dollar department and had people looking to me to be an expert and a leader. I knew I needed to have the CPH certification more than ever to back my station, so I set my sights on passing the test and worked hard to do so. As a CPH, I feel I’ve gone from being a hobbyist to being a pro who can stand alongside my horticulturalist peers with the distinction of having passed a set of rigorous standards. To me, the CPH badge is the mark of a pro in our state.
What is your job currently and how does having a good Plant ID knowledge help you in your career?
I work as a Plant Broker with WeHoP (Western Horticultural Products) and Petula. I’m a broker rep for WeHoP, providing local growers with young plants and liners. I’m also a partner in Petula, which works to procure hard-to-find finished plant material for select retailers and grower-retailers. Our combined goal is to provide our customers with plants, knowledge, ideas, and strategies to help them maintain their edge as independents. In this way, we also like to think of ourselves as an industry think-tank, focused on strengthening the role of independent growers and retailers in our area. Plant ID skills are muscles that need to be constantly flexed and the CPH test list is an excellent base for anyone working in our industry in the NW. I’m constantly confronted with plants outside of this realm now, and find I rely on the framework I learned in the CPH exam prep courses to help identify new material. It’s also pretty slick to have the skill to ID some rare tree from across a nursery yard, or be able to ID an unmarked Certified Professional Horticulturist.
What do you love the best about your job?
I never know where each day will take me! I have the opportunity to work with all different kinds of people across the industry on a lot of different levels: growers, suppliers, nursery owners, buyers, landscape and design professionals, breeders, and propagators. I get to hand-deliver customers’ orders a lot of the time, which makes for a different kind of contact and relationship with my customers (and I drive the delivery truck!). I feel privileged to have this vantage point, to be able to learn and gather information from so many sources, as well as being a connector between individuals.
I’m also extremely fortunate to work with my partners, Mike Cole and Tonya Cole. I’m so excited about what we are building with Petula. I also get to travel quite a bit to hunt for plants and ideas. And, I ride A LOT of ferries!
What’s your biggest challenge as a sales representative?
My biggest challenge is trying to shake a lot of people in our industry out of complacency. Many growers choose to grow the same things every year, because they’ve always done so. Retailers are limited by an ever-shrinking pool of suppliers and choices, or by fear related to the ‘flavor of the day’: hardiness, economy, weather, price, etc. We’ve lost so many growers and retailers, coupled with a shrinking pool of young minds interested in horticulture as a career. I see a lot of decline and consolidation in our industry and it scares me. I like to encourage my customers to be brave and bold. Grow something different! Take advantage of our favorable climate and our intelligent NW gardeners, who are HUNGRY for choices and new ideas. Many people are scared to try new things, which is understandable, but I’ve personally found that life is a lot more interesting erring on the side of ‘why not?!’
How do you remain current on the latest trends in horticulture?
With WeHoP, I’m able to travel to California Spring Trials each April. I also love visiting garden centers and avant-garde retailers everywhere I go. I try to stay current with trade magazines and select gardening magazines that I enjoy—I live for Frank Ronan’s column in Gardens Illustrated each month (nothing to do with trends though—musings on the joys, lessons & perils of gardening). I’ll attend any lecture or seminar that catches my interest. I’m a member of the RHS and like to keep up on gardening information and trends in the U.K., a nation of gardeners. My advice: keep an eye on Instagram. Since it’s image-based, it’s a plantsperson’s dream and there’s a great wealth of ideas and inspiration being showcased on this platform.
Then again, it’s always good to ask one’s self: why follow trends when you can set them?