15 March 2014

Five Minutes of Garden Fame

I'm quite chuffed, as my English friends would say, to be featured in garden writer Helen Yoest's blog! She's been doing a wonderful series of profiles highlighting young garden talent, an idea she got from a similar series featured in Gardens Illustrated. I had the honor of working along side several of the gardeners featured in the GI profiles and, because youth is a state of mind, am thrilled to be in company with so many talented gardeners in Helen's series. I've copied her post here for your reading enjoyment and took the liberty of adding some links for people and places I mention because I love them so and want to share them with you! To see the original post and more fantastic content from Helen, give a click on her blog link below. Do drop in and have a look around. While you're there, tell her Debs sent you!

Garden Talent: Deb Wiles

Posted by on March 13, 2014
Meet Deb Wiles. Deb, thanks for sharing with Gardening with Confidence! And thank you for all you do!
Please visit the Gardeners going forward category (on this blog) for other interviews of bright young minds.
Deb Wiles
Name: Deb Wiles
Age: 45 on the outside, 25 on the inside

Occupation: Director of Horticulture, Garden Historian

Where you went to college:
California State University Northridge (BA Deaf Studies), UCLA (Horticulture and some Landscape Architecture), University of Greenwich, London (MA Garden History), and I was a Professional Gardener student at Longwood Gardens.

What is your earliest garden memory?
My earliest garden memory is of pinching the seed heads on Oxalis in my grandparent’s garden. I was probably 5 and didn’t realize they were weeds! I just liked how it tickled when the pods exploded between my fingers! We also had a Passiflora vine in our backyard that was annually covered with Gulf Fritillary caterpillars which then made their chrysalides all over the fences and walls of the house. Kind of eery but when the butterflies emerged it was magical! That was the first time I made the connection between a plant and an insect.

What made you decide to enter the field of horticulture?
I was a cubicle rat in a windowless office for years. On the weekends I spent all my time at a local nursery called Hortus, taking classes and drooling over the plants. One day I overheard the owner telling another customer about the landscape architecture program at UCLA and my company had a tuition reimbursement program! The rest is history!

Please tell me about your specific horticultural position?
I’m Director of Horticulture for an historic estate turned public arboretum. Right now that means I shovel a lot of snow! There are only two of us on the hort staff to manage 13.5 acres of formal gardens, wildflower meadow, and woodlands so my job is very hands-on. I also have the dubious distinction of successfully organizing the first ever deer hunt on the grounds (and I’ve only been there 6 months!). I write the monthly garden tips article on the company website, teach classes and workshops, write grant proposals, and launched the Arb into social media. Currently I’m helping to develop our first garden docent training program.

How long have you been in the horticulture business?
Unofficially, about 15 years. Officially, not quite 10.

What is your personal garden style?
I studied the gardens of the late 17th and early 18th century for my MA and really love the calmness that order and geometry bring but my own personal style is very haphazard. When I had a garden of my own, I would wander the nursery and grab whatever was new or unique or a plant I’d seen on my travels just to see if it would work in my garden, so it was quite varied! Luckily my landlord didn’t mind the experiment!

Tell me about your first plant love?
I try to be an equal opportunity plant geek but I would have to say Sweet Pea since that’s my birth flower. The blossoms are so elegant yet playful, and the scent! I’d fill my house with them if I could!

Who inspired you in your career and how?
Oooh, lots of people: Gary Jones, who owned Hortus; Scott Daigre and Catherine Downes, who worked there as well as fellow Hortus devotee Susan Drews; my colleagues in the windowless cubicle who cried, “Take me with you!” when I left; Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter, who I met for the first time in 2006 and whom I am honored to call friend and mentor, and pretty much everyone I met while I was at Longwood! And, of course, my parents.

What is your favorite garden setting?
I love a garden with a broad view across a body of water, with a seat to enjoy it on, lots of heavenly scents carried on soft breezes, sunshine, shade, something to explore, and something to discover. A cafe with tea and scones doesn’t hurt!

What is your favorite planting style?
Right now I’m into what William Robinson called the Wild Garden.

What advice can you give others considering entering the field of horticulture?
DO IT!!! I took a drastic cut in pay when I left my high-powered corporate job to work in the garden and have never regretted a moment of it! Yes, it was a scary move, especially since it’s technically my third career, but I’ve made the best friends, have seen the most amazing places, met the most remarkable people, and have learned more than I ever imagined. If it’s where your heart is, go there. You won’t be happy until you do!

If you could go anywhere to see gardens, where would that be?
I’m not finished with the UK yet!

If you could go with any one person, who would it be?
Celia Fiennes (1662-1741). This woman traveled to every county in England between 1685 and 1710, an accomplishment very few men could claim at the time. She kept a travel diary describing the gardens and interiors of the great houses she visited as well as the local trades and commerce. Not much is known about her apart from her diary and her family connections so I’ve started researching her biography and hope to retrace her journeys one day.

What was your most valuable training?
Longwood introduced me to the world of public horticulture on a bold scale and Great Dixter introduced me to a world of wonder and historical reverence! Both were invaluable in preparing me for my present position.

How can people contact you: email, fb, LinkedIn, Twitter, website, etc.?
Facebook: Deb Wiles
Twitter: @dawiles

Helen Yoest

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