Hi Plant Ladies! I’m Alexa, a team member here with Those Plant Ladies. You may have seen me around on Instagram showing off some tools or tricks of the trade and maybe you caught our blog post that captures all the things I do as part of Team TPL. I have so much love for the horticulture industry and have worked in many different settings so we thought it was time I share more about my professional background with our amazing community! I hope that some of my past experiences might inspire you to give the horticulture industry a second look for a fulfilling and exciting career path!
Carolina Panthers Grounds Crew, Summer Intern 2013
I actually started college at Clemson University in 2012 as a business major and decided to take on horticulture as my minor in the spring semester. With just a few weeks of horticulture 101 under my belt, I quickly switched my major! I just could not learn enough about all things plants and landscaping and knew this is where I should be. When I officially had my major changed, I started receiving emails through the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences student services and, one of the first I received was about a summer internship at the Carolina Panthers Stadium working with the grounds crew. I was so excited to put in my application!
I grew up going to Panthers game from the time the team was started and thought it would be a dream to come true to work behind the scenes every day at the stadium. And it was!
When I started at the stadium, I had never pushed a lawn mower, run a string trimmer or leaf blower, never driven stick-shift equipment or practically ANYTHING that I would be required to do but I insisted that I was a quick learner and a hard worker. I am so appreciative of the opportunity this job gave me to do the very basics – run that lawn mower, string trim like a pro, water the dickens out of some big containers, and everything in between. The crew that I worked with really made this internship an amazing experience. They were dedicated, hard-working, and knew how to enjoy their time doing the tough jobs. They were supportive of me as I learned the ropes and didn’t make me feel too out of place as a 19 year old woman working beside them.
I was the first woman that had worked on the grounds crew in several years and I worked really hard to prove that I was up to the job! I like to think that I represented women well as Fawn was hired that very fall after I returned to school. (You can read about her journey here!)
Tryon Palace Gardens & Grounds Department Intern, Summer 2014
By the summer of 2014, my interest in horticulture had narrowed to public horticulture education. I became passionate about historic gardens and landscapes because these types of public gardens appeal to a very wide audience. You might not think you care about plants very much but if you can connect with a story from history about the interaction between people and plants, you may learn more about plants than you would have cared to learn about otherwise. Story-telling is important to the way we understand and connect to our world and the same is so true about gardens and landscapes.
I followed this interest to an internship at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. New Bern was the colonial capital of North Carolina and Tryon Palace served as the home of the royal governor before the American Revolution. This is one of the oldest towns and most significant early European arrival sites in our state. I was passionate about this town and this site in particular so I just sent an email asking if I could work there! (Sounds familiar to how I sent Fawn an email hoping she might have a job for me… don’t underestimate what could happen if you just ask!)
During my time at Tryon Palace, I grew my knowledge of plant material in everything from shrubs and perennials to annuals to kitchen gardening. There were wilderness gardens that were less manicured and there were highly manicured boxwood parterres and espaliered fruit trees. I spent most of my time in a perennial garden that was mine to manage for the summer and in the kitchen garden where we grew fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were used for cooking demonstrations each day.
I also dabbled in plant propagation while at this job as we often took cuttings from plants onsite and grew them for fundraising plant sales or to repopulate the gardens. I loved my crew at this job as well – the department was headed by a female and the crew was half men and half women. It was a great mix of ages and genders with everyone willing to teach me all I wanted to learn.
I was always so happy every time a visitor would stop us from working to ask about a flower or vegetable that we were working on. Answering questions and telling stories about the gardens all summer continued to nurture and fulfill my love for horticulture education!
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Horticulture Department Summer Intern, Summer 2015
Another summer, another internship. I continued to follow my passion for historic gardens and horticulture education for another summer by working at George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. Much of the work I did here was the same as the work I did at Tryon Palace, just on a larger stage with a much larger audience. Mount Vernon sees hundreds of guests each day and we had to be finished with all large equipment before the doors opened to guests. This left most of the work up to manpower and hand tools, which I still prefer to use for most fine gardening tasks.
I did A LOT of weeding but plenty of perennial maintenance, kitchen garden work, and fine pruning on grapevines, espaliered fruit trees and more boxwood parterres. They sure were popular in colonial times! Mount Vernon, like Tryon Palace, also had greenhouses onsite for the propagation of plants for sale and for replanting on the property. My time at Mount Vernon expanded my library of plants that I have worked with and made me a better horticulturist.
Of course, my favorite part of the job was still learning more and more stories to tell and information to teach our guests as they stopped us and asked questions. I would sweat my bum off all day in the hottest of heat if it means that one person would stop and ask me a question! I can’t get enough of it!
Hinton Rural Life Center Summer Garden Ministry Leader, Summer 2016
After graduation, I took on my final summer internship before taking on the “real world”. Staying true to my love for people and plants, I applied for a job to manage a one acre vegetable garden at the Hinton Rural Life Center, a United Methodist Mission Center in Hayesville, NC.
When I showed up for summer missions camp, I was staring at an actual field of weeds that I was expected to turn into a functioning garden that would produce enough yield to supply our camp kitchen and a local food pantry with fresh produce for the summer. Talk about overwhelmed!
That summer, I fought a field of weeds with a half-functioning tractor, built an irrigation system from a damming a creek and installed a pump, and planted one acre in corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, radishes, potatoes, and more.
But the most important work that I did was leading over 400 youth and 150 adults while they worked in the garden alongside me. We talked everything from plant science and food production to faith and following God’s call for your life every day in that sacred space. Guess who was a very sweaty, very dirty, very tired, and very happy and fulfilled gardener?
What happened next? Well, I went on to get a big girl job with University of Maryland Extension in Baltimore County which came with so many more adventures and so much educating to do! But I think I’ll save that for another day!
If any of my experiences interest or inspire you – you know where to find me! I am an open book and am always down to answer your burning questions!