SEMNLA President's Message: June 2016

By Pat Seibel
SEMNLA President
Garden Ambassador, Four Star Greenhouse

Wow, how can it be? Now I need to pass it on.

I never really pondered my decision to become involved with plants and the green industry. My parents were always digging stuff up from the woods around our cottage up north and giving them a new home in our garden in Grand Rapids. I used to hate the thought of plants – that meant work for my brother and me. What I didn’t realize was that the passion was already there – it just needed to be cultivated. I see now the importance of helping to raise the awareness of the younger generation and get them interested.

After high school, rather than attend college, I first tried the working route – in a factory. After four years, I got pretty tired of it and listened to the calling of the woods. I decided to go to college to study forestry. Weird how my career choice involved plants – they took hold in my life even before I knew it. My parents’ influence had rubbed off.

After graduating from Michigan State I began working as an arborist. First in Michigan, then moving out East. My biggest awakening happened while working for a Tree and Landscape company in Massachusetts when I was put on a landscaping crew. “Wow! How can it be?” I began to wonder. “Such a variety of plants. Such a different plant palette from Michigan.” I was hooked. I began to marvel at the diversity of flora, while at the same time realizing what plants meant to me, and as importantly, what they meant to the homeowners I was doing work for. They paid a lot of money to make their yards beautiful, to live in them, to raise their families. It was always a proud moment to see the work I was doing adding enjoyment to someone’s life.

One client I had worked with for a number of years who owned an expansive property came home to find me planting annuals. I was filthy – dirt from head to toe. He came out to talk to me and told me how he envies me – did I mention I was covered with dust and dirt and grime? ‘Why’s that?’, I ask. “Because you can step back at the end of the day and admire what you have accomplished.” As a lawyer, the end result for him could take many years. I thought, “Wow, how can it be?” This successful attorney envies me because I get to ‘play with plants’ all day? And yet, I realized then what a special gift of a career I had. I got instant gratification, whether it was admiring the results of pruning a gnarly Japanese maple or creating yard makeovers. What a treat.

As the years have passed, there came a point where I wondered if I should be doing something else. Age had set in. I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore. Let’s face it, working with plants can be a pretty physical job. I looked through the Schoolcraft College degree offerings, thinking it might be time for a change. However, going through the list of majors had the opposite effect. No. No. Hell no. No. Never. Nothing even sounded remotely interesting. That darned idea popped into my head again. “Wow, how can it be?” I am still so geeked about plants. I could never do anything else.

My current work at Four Star Greenhouse lets me not only play with plants, learn about new plants, and talk about plants, it lets me interact with fellow plant geeks who, like me, truly enjoy seeing and learning about more plants.

The idea I most want to convey in this techy, social-media crazed world is that the plants in this world help to draw people outdoors and connect them with the natural world. They can bring a needed escape where all of the senses are engaged: with bright colors and interesting textures, sweet fragrances, soft petals, rustling leaves, even sharp or subtle flavors.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to help with a planting session and lesson at Four Star for several groups of young ladies working towards their flower badge. They are a hoot. To see their eyes open and realize that what I was showing them was real, could be touched, would actually grow. I love the look of joy on their faces when they put together plant combos and question, “Can I do this and this or should I do this?” All the while learning to love plants.

“Wow, how can it be?” I’m actually teaching young people about plants. Helping to ignite a spark or at least peak their interest – and hoping they don’t think of plants as work, like my brother and I did – is a joy for me. To instill a plant passion into the newer generation is a good goal for all of us.

As SEMNLA President, I’m honored to come together with others working in the green industry to learn from each other by sharing our knowledge, and passing it on to help develop a new generation of ‘plant geeks.’