Her Passion for Plants Grew into a Profession
Meet horticulturalist and gardening media personality, Melinda Myers
As far back as middle school, when she was a self-taught "science geek" doing a science project on tropisms in plants, Melinda Myers had a love of and curiosity about growing things.
"All my science classes seemed to have a plant focus," Melinda remembers. "I started buying houseplants. I filled my bedroom with them. Then my neighbor gave me some perennials."
Like Melinda's first plants, her love of science and plants continued to grow, eventually leading her to graduate-level horticultural study and a 40-year career as a horticulturalist, educator, nationally known TV and radio host, columnist, and prolific author, having written more than 20 books. Her comprehensive website, melindamyers.com, provides inspiring gardening and plant care information for gardeners of all interests and experience levels.
"Looking back, I guess I was destined to be in horticulture," Melinda says. "I was lucky that I figured this out early and was able to find a way to stay in this profession and keep my passion."
How did you get started with gardening?
I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. We hiked, went mushroom hunting, and picked beans with my grandmother, and my dad always had a garden in the backyard.
I started buying and growing house plants in middle school. My bedroom windows were just jammed full of houseplants. My dad built me a plant table and made metal poles with hooks for hanging plants. I still have those poles.
Why do you garden?
I just love to be in my garden. It brings me joy at all different levels. Gardening is my passion and my profession.
Personally, I enjoy the physical benefits, emotional highs, and stress relief gardening provides. When I'm in the garden, my mood improves. I find that when I'm trying to find a solution to a personal or professional problem, I dig. I plant. I listen to nature. My garden is the place I can just relax and ease into finding a solution, or peace, or joy.
My garden is also my professional lab. I learn so much from every garden and season that I can pass along to others. It's always an experiment, every year. Part of it I do because of my own curiosity, and part to share with others. As an educator, I feel that in order to teach something, I also need to do it.
What kinds of gardening do you enjoy?
I love it all! The benefit of having such a wide interest is that I can teach whatever people are ready to learn about at the moment. Teaching and sharing, as well as doing, are my passion.
For example, houseplants are really popular right now, particularly with Millennials. I'm so thrilled that this houseplant craze has come back! There's a new energy and youthful enthusiasm about green, sustainable practices, and that gives me hope.
Describe your own garden.
I live on about 11 acres, six of which are plantable, and about an acre of it is fenced-in to protect it from deer. It's mostly in-ground because I have space for that—there's sand and rock, so I use various techniques like lasagna and Hugelkultur to build my soil.
I've got bees, a small orchard, and lots of flowers, shrubs, and vegetables. My flowerbeds are strategically placed for pollinators. I plant a few raised beds for demonstration, and they provide a break when my knees are tired from kneeling to plant and pull weeds. (I'm a hands-and-knees kind of weeder.)
I still keep quite a few indoor plants. And although I have lots of room, I also grow in containers. They're a great place to try new plants, and I can keep herbs and edibles conveniently located off my back door for easy access. Container plants also attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies close enough for me to watch from inside, my patio, or my deck.
What gardening topics are you most passionate about?
I'm a real generalist—I don't really have a favorite. My master's degree is in horticulture and I've worked 40 years in the profession, 11 of those years as an Extension Agent.
I think my strength is sustainable gardening: how to select, plant, and care for any type of garden. I help diagnose when things go wrong, and I find an eco-friendly solution whenever possible.
What do you feel is the biggest benefit of gardening?
Gardening is good for our minds, bodies, and spirits. As gardeners, we know this. Now there is research to prove it.
What's your biggest gardening challenge?
There's limited time to accomplish all that I want to in my garden, so I always look for ways to maximize every task. I call them "two-fors" or "three-fors." Mulching is a great example. It suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, improves soil as it breaks down, and prevents erosion and compaction. I also believe in benign neglect. If you require lots of attention, you will not survive in my garden!
I have someone who helps me with weeding. This is critical, since I travel so much. The gardens need to look good when we shoot video. Sometimes we as gardeners think we have to do it all, but it's perfectly okay to help each other out, or hire someone. Gardening should be fun.
What is your most memorable gardening triumph or disaster?
Every disaster is an opportunity to learn. I had to complete the Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series despite a polar vortex, late spring, and newly started garden. We were scheduled to shoot Make Your Trees and Shrubs Thrive in January, when it was 19 degrees below zero with three feet of snow on the ground! Then that spring was cold and late, so I was building beds for Food Gardening for Everyone at night, trying to get the last few plants in the ground for the next day. I call it "crisis gardening."
How have your gardening practices changed through the years?
Until six years ago, I was a small-space, city gardener. My whole front yard was a garden: I had containers, and I kept a community garden. The soil was great and I planted things close together for efficiency. I squeezed a lot of flavor and beauty into my small space.
Now that I have more room, I can try lots of different plants and techniques. When planting vegetables, I need to remind myself that I no longer have to worry. I can provide the adequate amount of space, so they reach their mature size, and space for me to get in and harvest.
Gardening in a small, intimate space was a good experience; it helps me relate to and understand small-space gardeners. Now I can also appreciate how having more room is even better!
What is your favorite garden tool or product?
I gravitate toward tools that solve problems or challenges, and that provide beauty. Viva Self-Watering Rolling Planters are a great example. They've got built-in wheels so they're easy to move, they make a colorful accent for a patio or deck, and they do the watering for me. Indoors, Bamboo LED Grow Lights look like furniture while allowing me to start seeds in my living space and provide extra light for houseplants.
I'm also a fan of functional garden features, like the Gardener's Plant-A-Bar and Salad Bar Garden, that combine the beauty of gardening with outdoor entertaining. The Demeter Mobile Planter Cart can be rolled anyplace I want to add some color.
After seeing them in Gardener's Supply Company test plots, I can't wait to try the Vertex Lifetime Tomato Cages. They have an ingenious design that lets you clip them around established plants, and they fold flat in the off season.
Have any of your friends been bitten by the gardening bug?
My daughter, a good friend, and my partner, Pete, come to mind. My daughter is a therapist, and I helped her build a therapy garden where she works. We installed a Titan Arch and set a table beneath it to create an outdoor office, where therapists can meet with clients or anyone to get away and relax. A good friend who worked in the landscape profession now grows vegetables for cooking and health reasons. My partner, Pete, enjoys eating vegetables from the garden. If there's equipment involved, he's right there in the garden, too.
I also have two grandkids who garden with me. At first my daughter wasn't interested, but now she and her kids are gardening together. I help as an extra set of hands, but really it's her garden and her yard. One of the roles grandparents can play is helping their grandkids garden, because parents are so busy. My being there lets my daughter garden and get things done.
How did you discover Gardener's Supply?
I'd been a huge Gardener's fan for years after trying and loving different products. Then I met people from Gardener's through the Garden Writers Association, now known as Garden Communicators International or GardenComm. We developed a relationship, and I love the people I've had a chance to work with along the way.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Gardener's Supply Company's readers?
Gardening is a humbling experience, but it's also energizing because you're learning something. So just get started! There's an anonymous quote, which goes something like this: "A green thumb gardener is someone who has grown lots of plants, killed quite a few…and just doesn't talk about those that died." So every plant you kill gets you closer to becoming a green thumb gardener! That pretty much sums it up.
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