Rooted in Education: The Impact of Longwood Gardens on Horticulture Careers
At Seed Your Future, we can’t do what we do without your support. To help thank and highlight those who support our mission, we’re spotlighting some of our donors. We recently sat down with Heather Drzal, Director of School and Youth Programs at Longwood Gardens, to learn more about her role and career opportunities at Longwood.
Q: Tell us a bit about Longwood Gardens.
A: Longwood Gardens is one of the most-visited public gardens in the world, attracting more than 1.5 million guests each year. Located just outside Philadelphia, our beautiful property encompasses 1,100 acres of formal gardens, natural lands, meadows, fountains, and a grand conservatory. Education has always been core to our mission since Pierre S. du Pont founded the Gardens in 1906. It’s exciting to work to advance that legacy today through the many education and training programs we have to ignite a passion in horticulture.
Q: Can you give us a brief history of what led you to working for Longwood Gardens?
A: I was a formal classroom teacher before coming to Longwood. I taught high school agriculture and was an FFA advisor. As part of that, I taught Horticulture, environmental science, AP environmental science, food science and general Agriculture 1 and 2. I took my students to Longwood for a field trip and thought it was a cool place. How fun would it be to work at Longwood? I went on their website and there happened to be the opening for the position I'm currently in. It just seemed like great timing. My educational background is in both formal and informal education, so I've always been interested in both realms.
I enjoy what I do now a lot. I love the people I work with. Longwood is such a dynamic place to work at.
Q: What kind of training, certification, or education is required to work at Longwood Gardens?
A: It depends on what role you're fulfilling. It’s going to be different depending on the department you're working in. For horticulture, you need to have some sort of horticultural training or background knowledge in horticulture. To work in engagement and learning, which is the team that I work in, a background in education is helpful. Longwood is like a mini city, so we also employ many of the trades, which all require their own training and certifications.
Longwood offers many professional development opportunities, so they will assist you in additional trainings if they are needed to be successful in your position. A lot of my professional development since I've been at Longwood has helped me grow and flourish in my position.
Q: How many students do you get at Longwood?
A: Within School and Youth, we see approximately 24,000 students in a year. This could be through onsite programs, virtual programs or outreach events. Our onsite field trips and virtual field trips are free for all students!
Q: How do you highlight the rewarding careers available at Longwood?
A: We have a virtual field trip that focuses on careers for middle school and high school students.
In this program, we utilized some of Seed Your Future's videos about careers. We focus on an array of green careers, not just gardeners or those who take care of the turf, because those are the two careers that students always think of first. Students don't think about the other cool careers, such as being an arborist, landscape architect, or landscape designer. Additionally, we've teamed up with the Chester County Intermediate Unit to create Virtual Reality Career Readiness Experiences here at the Gardens. Virtual Reality Career Readiness Experiences - Wakelet.
Onsite we have a field trip for middle school and high school students that's set up as an escape room where students area acting out and portraying different roles at Longwood to solve a mystery. We also offer a Green Careers Exploration Day, where students have the opportunity to learn about the variety of careers here at Longwood.
To learn more about field trips at Longwood Gardens visit our Pre K-12 Teacher & Student programs webpage.
Q: What are some of the different departments at Longwood that students looking for a career working with plants might not know about?
A: Students often don't know or understand that we have a variety of careers here at Longwood. They don't know we have someone who's sole job is to take care of the bonsai and water lily collection. Students also never think about our natural lands team. We have a team who takes care of our meadow garden and natural land spaces. That's just not plants – it’s wildlife too. Every year we burn the meadow, and our team uses fire management to keep the meadow and natural spaces healthy. The science behind why they do certain areas at certain times and not others, the timing of exactly when to burn, and the fire training that goes into it is cool. Additionally, Longwood offers careers in Science, Guest Services, IT, Marketing, Human Resources, Performing Arts, Culinary Arts, Facilities and other educational areas such as Library, Archives, Leadership and Continuing Education.
Q: How is Longwood making a difference in your opinion?
A: I think Longwood is making a big difference in reaching students through a career lens. Since Seed Your Future started, Longwood has been involved. I was at Longwood when first launched. Ever since then, we have been cognizant about making sure we're tying careers into everything we do, whether it's just a mention of careers or briefly talking about the people who take care of those plants, even though we're focusing on other content.
Q: As a former teacher, why do you think it's important to incorporate careers when talking to students? Why do you think it's important to highlight those opportunities?
A: I think it's important because students don't understand how many different careers exist in the world. Their teachers don't know, and their parents don't know about green careers, and if they're not exposed to other green careers in some capacity, either by their teachers or parents, then they may grow up doing something that they only kind of like. They didn't know this whole other world of career options existed. They might love hobby gardening with their family but might not realize they can make a career out of that.
Q: That’s one thing that’s very unique with the green industry. You can easily enter it without having that official college education because there are so many avenues you can take. You can go for that degree, or you can choose not to.
A: Yeah, that's what's really cool about it. I don’t have any official horticultural degree. Everything I know is self-taught from reading textbooks, taking an online class, or watching a YouTube video about pest management or whatever it might be. I don't need to be able to go out and identify every plant I see because it's not a part of my job at all, but making sure that you have the training you need to do your job is the important part.
Q: Why does your organization support Seed Your Future’s mission?
A: Longwood has been a part of Seed Your Future since the very beginning, and it’s always something that Longwood has seen as important because it is the pipeline for the next generation of green collar career workers. Without that pipeline, Longwood doesn't exist because we need horticulture staff.
Q: Do you have a favorite Seed Your Future resource that you share with students or educators?
A: The quiz is one of my favorites. My other all-time favorite thing that I'm always sharing is your Baltimore Orioles Plant Power video with teachers. So many students are into sports, and I always just get a kick out of the video. I feel it's really accessible to students because the majority of them love sports or have been to sporting events, and sports groundskeeping is a career they don't think about. They realize someone has to take care of that turf, whether it be real turf or artificial, and that’s just one job.
Seed Your Future would not be in existence today without the innovation and support of Longwood Gardens. More than just a garden they are a learning center.
For more information about Longwood Gardens and their education programs visit their website.
- Lillie Wightman, Seed Your Future