Horticulture alum Matt Ross sees endless opportunities with a horticulture degree

Matthew Ross graduated from Michigan State in May 2006 with a degree in Horticultural Science and went on to receive a Master's with an emphasis on Landscape Design Construction Management.

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Why did you choose Horticulture?

Throughout my life I have always been passionate about plants and gardening. Family vacations were centered around my curiosity, and I spent a good portion of my youth exploring places like Mackinac Island, Cranbrook, Brookgreen Gardens, and taking endless photos of the Land attraction and incredible horticultural displays at Disney World. The first memory I can recall, from when I was three years old, is my grandmother dividing chives from her garden and giving them to me to plant at my childhood home. Little did I know then about the endless career possibilities associated with my love of plants.

I had no clue what the term “horticulture” meant until my older brother and fellow Spartan, Scott Ross, suggested I take an Introduction to Horticulture class during the fall of my freshman year. I had worked in the landscaping industry prior to enrolling as a business student, completely unaware of how in-depth and prestigious the horticulture program was at MSU. A few weeks into the course, I realized that I needed to shift gears and make horticulture my primary focus.

Why did you choose MSU?

The schools I originally considered applying to were Syracuse University, University of Michigan, Northwood University, and MSU. After visiting the college several times, I was convinced that MSU was the right fit for me. MSU had highly competitive programs, a gorgeous campus, and a world-class reputation. Weekends spent visiting my older brother and going to the Children’s Garden, Clancy Lewis Arboretum, and W.J. Beal Botanical Garden played a big role in making my decision, as they were frequent points of interest for me as a budding photographer in high school.

Where did you go after MSU?

Upon graduation I moved to Toledo, Ohio to start my career as a collegiate educator and a horticulturist at Toledo Botanical Garden. I spent the first three years overseeing several of the feature gardens at the 62-acre public garden formerly known as Crosby Gardens. I oversaw the National Hosta Collection, the Pioneer Garden, Vegetable Garden, and the Shade Garden, which included a collection of native woodland plants. While I was working at the gardens during the day, I moonlighted as an adjunct instructor at Owens Community College, hired initially to teach two courses: Soil Science and Woody Plant Identification.

After three years of working as an adjunct, I became a full-time instructor at Owens and developed the Robert J. Anderson Training Facility in conjunction with Toledo Grows, where we trained incarcerated youth as part of a re-entry program and administered classes for the Urban Agriculture Professional Certificate Program. During my time at the college I worked directly with Christopher Foley, a fellow Spartan, mentor, and best friend. Together we oversaw the Landscape Turfgrass Management Program, which has graduates working across the country in the landscape, floral, nursery, small-scale agriculture, golf course, and professional sports turf industries.

While in Toledo, I also served as a guest host for the NBC 24 morning show highlighting different horticultural topics each week, as well as an active board member of the Wild Ones Organization; presented lectures across the nation, developed a community garden on campus in conjunction with the food bank; and spent countless hours exploring the incredibly diverse plant communities in the Oak Openings Region.

I have since moved to America’s Garden Capital, Philadelphia where I am the Director of Continuing Education at Longwood Gardens.

Any thoughts for current students?

As an MSU horticulture student, you have abundant opportunities to deepen your knowledge and further your career aspirations. First and foremost, reach out to the faculty; don’t be afraid to utilize your teachers as a resource throughout your journey at Michigan State. Each of them is invested in you as much as you are invested in the horticulture program. They are some of the top experts in the field nationally and internationally, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without their guidance and support. Become as involved as you possibly can with the Student Horticulture Association. I made lifelong friends and professional contacts in our industry as a result of spending time in the student club. Getting a chance to compete at ALCA (now NCLC) was a highlight of my time in college, and I really appreciated getting a chance to go on field trips in the region and beyond with the group. I would also recommend getting involved in professional organizations like NALP, APGA, AIFD, MNLA, Wild Ones, ASLA, Seed Your Future, and American Hort, which all have incredible opportunities to volunteer and network with industry leaders in the fields of horticulture, public gardens, native plants, floral design, and landscape architecture. Many of these organizations offer discounted rates on their services for students and are a great way to become more involved; they’re far more than just acronyms.

It may sound a bit cliché but follow your passion and make your personal vision a reality by taking advantage of any opportunity that is out there. With the size and scale of offerings in agriculture and extension, there are some really amazing things happening throughout Spartan nation. Whether you get a chance to go to an event at a research station, spend a day at Hidden Lake Gardens, or work at the MSU Hort Farm, there is no shortage of things to do. I also encourage you to tour all the gardens within campus: the Radiology Gardens, the Turf Center, the Clancy Lewis Arboretum, the Baker Woodlot, MSU Trial Gardens, the Children’s Garden, W.J. Beal Gardens, and even the botany greenhouses; each has its own style and collection of plants. Beyond campus, get out and enjoy the natural beauty and rich agricultural history of Michigan. If you’re presented with the chance to check out some of the nation’s leading nurseries, greenhouses, landscape companies, and farms, make a point to go.

Most of all enjoy every minute of the journey being a Spartan!


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