Andrew Mell's study of horticulture helped him find his perfect career - working in public gardens

The best thing about the horticulture field is that there is this huge versatility, where if you have an interest in plants, there will be a place where you fit in.

Andrew Mell

Andrew Mell, a senior in the Horticulture B.S. program, always had this natural inclination towards plants and is turning it into a career after his studies at MSU are complete.

Why did you choose Horticulture as your major/degree?

Before I was in horticulture, I had a class that was held inside the Plant and Soil Sciences building. It was near the end of the fall semester, and the beginnings of winter claimed nearly every leaf, flower, and blade of grass that used to thrive outside, leaving a depressing, barren landscape in its wake. I remember one time that I got out of class, and didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of the day, I decided to investigate this building I spent so much time in. I didn’t know if I was allowed to snoop around in the greenhouses connected to the building, but that certainly didn’t stop me, and good thing it didn’t!

Down one of the greenhouse ranges, sat this beautiful angel-wing begonia, with plentiful pink blooms and bright green foliage, it was impossible to miss. Seeing that container, with all that color and life, absolutely blew my mind. I was just getting used to looking outside and seeing snow, and bare branches, and inside sat this thriving specimen, that didn’t know nor care about the true environment beyond those glass walls. I remember how I felt seeing that begonia from that point forward, and I knew I needed to have more. And the rest is history!

What has been the best experience in your major so far?

Coincidentally, it was my first horticulturally-based job! The first semester after I switched my major to horticulture, I remembered thinking that I needed to get a job in the industry, to try and get relevant experience. I was so behind all of my colleagues already, I knew that if I didn’t put in the extra effort now, I would never catch up. Luckily, there were job postings in the hallways advertising an internship at the trial gardens here at MSU! I thought it would be the perfect opportunity, so I threw my hat in and applied.

I was so excited when I heard I got the job! I spent that entire summer working in the gardens, planting and tending to beds, talking to the visitors, and bearing witness to everything that grew and bloomed. It was hard work, but the best feeling in the world is taking a step back and looking at the space you’ve created. What used to be an empty plot of soil, was now full of color and fragrance, life and personality, and vast potential. The gravy is that you’re able to get close and personal with each plant you’re putting into that bed. You learn the common names, the scientific name, whether it likes sun, shade, or a little of both, or how much water it needs.

It’s the mixing and matching of this vast variety of plants that is both fun and challenging, and you don’t realize how much you’ve learned until the summer ends! Now, I’ve never really considered myself much of a people-person, but working in the gardens and talking to visitors about plants, really helped me blossom (hah) into a much more sociable individual. Who doesn’t love talking about plants? Besides, with the knowledge you accumulate by working with plants, you get to have very fun conversations with visitors who aren’t as knowledgeable.

What is the best selling point about your major that you would like others to know?

There’s this huge versatility with horticulture, where if you have an interest in plants, there will be a place where you fit in. I was really nervous when I switched my major, because I knew that I didn't want to start my own farm, or work in a greenhouse all day, like a good portion of my colleagues. I was more interested in the art and beauty aspect of horticulture, the joy it can bring to people, and the serenity of plant-filled spaces. I’ve found that working in public gardens was a perfect match for me, and is impossibly fulfilling. There’s so much to horticulture that can apply to so many people.

If you love puzzles and deducing an answer to a problem, you could go into pest and plant diagnostics, where you need to search for clues and evidence as to why a plant is deteriorating.

If you love designing, you could lean into landscape design, construction, and maintenance, where you get to create a beautiful outdoor space to your client’s specifications (and get paid quite handsomely for it).

And if you’re just in it for the money, you can grow some high-value crops and sell them. I hear the cannabis industry is particularly lucrative, if you’re into that.

What are your future plans?

Right now, it’s a toss up between going to grad school [to study more about public gardening] or working in a public garden. COVID-19 makes future planning a bit challenging, but Spartans can always find a way to navigate uncertain times.

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