Next Generation 2.0

The American garden scene is blooming.

March 5, 2014

One year ago, Organic Gardening presented four young people working in horticulture who we predicted would have lasting impacts on the professional and amateur aspects of our favorite passion. The week the magazine came out, some of the profiled people launched a Facebook group called Emergent: A Group for Growing Professionals. The group quickly reached 1,000 members. It seemed that young people working in horticulture from around the country were just waiting for a way to connect with each other and share ideas, experiences, and even job opportunities. The article initiated meet-ups at public gardens and trade shows. By popular demand, we introduce another group of young professionals, and we can’t wait to find out what presenting this set of gardeners will grow.

Brenden Armstrong

Like many young people today, Brenden Armstrong, 24, is interested in giving back. “I believe my role in the world is one of service,” he says. “My passion for horticulture began in a Lawrence, Kansas, high school greenhouse science class. From there, I worked at an organic chestnut orchard and in a retail garden center. My father urged me to attend the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture.”


Part of the NYBG's 2-year program is a 6-month internship. For that, Brenden interned at the U.S. National Arboretum doing plant breeding and germplasm preservation. Last summer, however, he was off to an internship at Walt Disney World, returning in the fall to Kansas State University to work toward a bachelor’s degree in horticulture.

Giving back? Brenden dreams big. “I want to develop a botanical garden in Lawrence,” he says. And it isn’t a pipe dream. He has been working with advisers to develop a business plan and has identified a site. “There would be well-rounded collections of woody and herbaceous plants, particularly focused on those that perform well in northeastern Kansas.”

Brenden has considered the mission: “I believe Americans are aware of the beauty of gardening and the benefits of healthy eating,” he says. “However, this awareness is often unaccompanied by the knowledge necessary to experience the benefits of horticulture and gardening. Creating a successful botanical garden will give people in my area the chance to understand horticulture’s incredible life-enriching potential.”

People might think this is a crazy idea, especially for a 24-year-old, and maybe one has to be a little crazy to think it can be done. But Brenden is undaunted. His next step is to present his plan to the Lawrence City Commission Sustainability Advisory Board, which oversees projects dedicated to the environment, education, and horticulture.

As far as Brenden is concerned, having a botanical garden isn’t a luxury; it is a necessity. But one in which the beauty nature offers is paramount.

Photo: M&E Photo Studio LLC

Ben Futa

If we wonder about the future of gardens and gardening, Ben Futa, 24, has some answers. He is a self-described public-horticulture nerd, and his special interests lie in the growing potential of urban environments. “The role and need for gardens in cities could not be more significant: public, private, or otherwise,” he said. “Exposure is the first step.”

Ben is from South Bend, Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University in 2012 with an associate’s degree in interdisciplinary agriculture, a course of study composed of three semesters of landscape architecture and four semesters of public horticulture. Now he is studying at Indiana University South Bend, working on degree number two in general studies with a minor in sustainability—all while working full time at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve in Niles, Michigan.

Exposing the public to plants, gardens, and horticulture is the value of Fernwood—a 105-acre public garden with 10 acres of landscaped gardens, a woodland nature preserve, and an arboretum of specimen trees and shrubs, as well as a restored tall-grass prairie; there’s a conservatory featuring more than 100 kinds of tropical ferns, too.

“I feel the future of horticulture is in the ‘culture’ half of the word,” Ben says. “Gardening is a culture, but it has become very sterile and commercialized in most of America, especially here in the Midwest.” Granted, there are a few pockets of progress and promise, like Fernwood, but he sees nearly unlimited potential for more. One of Ben’s big wishes is that more cities would realize how bringing culture in the form of designed landscapes and plants can improve the quality of life for those who experience it. Perhaps more municipal planners would appreciate this if they realized that plants and gardens can bring in more money than they cost. Of this, Ben cites the High Line in New York City as an example: This popular public park was built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Not only is the High Line successful; it has also brought an economic revival to the neighborhoods through which it runs, in the form of restaurants, small shops, and service businesses that appeal to visitors who come from all over the world to enjoy the garden’s culture.

Listen to an interview of Ben Futa on this podcast of Ken Druse Real Dirt.

Photo: Brendan Lekan

Crystal Cady

Crystal Cady has been working as a professional in Oregon’s horticultural industry for more than 15 years. That is especially impressive when you learn that she is just 31 years old. While working in a garden center, Crystal chose to attend a community college to gain an associate’s degree upon completing her high school degree as a junior, one year earlier than most. Then she moved from Portland to Corvallis to work at Garland Nursery while studying for degrees in horticultural science, botany, and business at Oregon State University.

Added to this, Crystal also volunteers for industry associations; participates as the seminar coordinator for the Farwest Trade Show, sponsored by the Oregon Association of Nurseries; and also serves as the chair of the Yard, Garden & Patio Show held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Surprisingly, she says, “A lot of people don’t know that Oregon is nursery country.” Many of the plants at local garden centers around the country originate in Oregon, and some 80 percent of what’s grown there is shipped out of state. Before the 2008 financial downturn, Oregon’s ornamental plant production was a billion-dollar industry, and at last, much to Crystal’s delight, the state is approaching that once again.

Through all of her time working, studying, and volunteering, Crystal has been part of the production business herself, creating containers and hanging baskets for private clients. In 2012, she marketed a range of 75 different ready-planted pots and quickly sold out. With that success, she knew the time had come for her lifelong dream—to start a garden center and farm. In 2013, Sunflower Acres Farm & Garden was born. Crystal leased a 30-by-96-foot greenhouse and grew about 500 hanging baskets; those, too, quickly sold out.

Crystal and her husband, Josh, have now signed up to sell their plants at local farmers’ markets in 2014, and the couple are closing in on their goal: They hope to acquire roughly 40 acres and open their own garden center this fall. Crystal’s plan for this place is ambitious, but there is little doubt she will accomplish her objective. “There will be a nursery with a café, display gardens, community and school plantings, a farm with fresh fruits and vegetables for sale, and eventually a vineyard.”

Photo: Jon Jensen

Jared Barnes

Jared Barnes rushed into a classroom where the North Carolina State University Horticulture Club was meeting. He was wearing a big round suit with mask and green cape. “I am Superseed,” he proclaimed, before explaining why seeds are super to a crowd of howling, learning attendees. “I have radicle powers,” he claimed. The radicle is the first root a germinating seed produces.

“My first superpower is my impenetrable seed coat.”

He went on to reveal more forces for good in the abilities of a seed, leading to the cotyledons, the first leaves to emerge: “They harness the power of the sun!”

It is this kind of demonstration that will make this new Ph.D., at 28, a super teacher who will bring excitement to horticulture in new and modern ways. (His presentation “Superseed Grows to NC State” can be viewed on YouTube.)

Jared shares knowledge whenever possible as a familiar presence at symposia and a popular speaker. He appears on all manner of digital media, including his website, Harvest & Snow (where he claims to satisfy his “two greatest passions in life...plants and people”); and his blog called Meristem. His fans follow his posts on the Emergent Facebook page inspired by last year’s Organic Gardening article on next-generation horticulturists.

Jared is also known for his curiosity. He’s learned from gardens he has visited in England, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, and of course all over the United States. He says the way to cultivate future gardeners and reach out to new students is to expose them to the wonders of horticulture and botany. “Plants and gardens offer people something tangible, something that is real, something they can touch, something they can smell, something they can taste—something they can even eat!”

Photos: DL Anderson