From a wooden podium in front of a buzzing audience of 900 plus horticulturalists from around the world, Professor Mary Meyer reflects on the essential role plants play in our everyday lives.
“I believe that horticulture is life, horticulture is universal, and horticulture is invaluable for our future. For years, actually, my whole life my vision has been pretty simple — to teach people about plants and to help them enjoy and understand the wonder of horticulture.”
At the same time, Meyer laments the dwindling knowledge current generations possess about plants and the field of horticulture. Quoting environmentalist Paul Hawkins, she notes that “the average citizen can recognize 1,000 brand names and logos but fewer than 10 local plants.”
In August, Meyer stepped down from her one-year term as president of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS), a premiere professional organization that boasts over 2500 active members. ASHS brings together researchers, educators, businesses and academic professionals to promote interest in research and education in all branches of horticulture in the United States and around the globe. Their activities are varied, but ASHS’ mission is primarily accomplished by producing academic journals, hosting professional development opportunities, advocating the importance of horticulture to key leadership, and by coordinating educational campaigns.
Meyer spent her year in office as an action figure — speaking at gatherings of educators, meeting with society members to elicit feedback on initiatives and conference planning, and advocating the need for research support to the legislature and other influential players.
Still, Meyer’s career as president is most defined by an ambitious campaign to promote horticulture as a viable career field for young people. Under Meyer’s leadership, ASHS has partnered with Longwood Gardens, American Public Garden Association, National Junior Horticultural Association, AmericanHort and the American Horticultural Society to roll out a ten-year national initiative to improve the public perception of plants and encourage young people to pursue a career in horticulture.
The initiative begins with an investigation of current perceptions of horticulture by a national communications and public relations firm. Findings will be used to develop an advocacy, marketing, and educational plan geared toward high school and middle school age students. With Scholastic Education, plant-based activities will be created and distributed to schools to help students understand that horticulture can be a fun and rewarding career.
“We believe that kids today want to make a difference,” Meyer comments, “and there are a lot of ways to do that in horticulture ... I believe horticulture can make a positive difference in everyone’s life — through appreciation for plants by growing our own food, and by using plants for their beauty in and around our homes and workplaces.”
Meyer will serve as chair of ASHS for the next year to provide continuity in governance. For more information about ASHS or the horticulture educational campaign, visit www.ashs.org.