Prairie and Native Plant Careers

Gregory Ward

Grounds Supervisor
University of Missouri-St. Louis
St. Louis County, MO

Where did you study and what was your major field of study?
I began studying horticulture in Richmond, VA at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. I worked full time during the day and attended classes in the evening for about two years before I decided it was too much. In Fall of 2011, I was accepted into the Longwood Gardens Professional Horticulture Program in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. This program is a two-year immersive and experiential curriculum focused on public horticulture in which the students live and work on the grounds of Longwood Gardens.

Briefly describe your current job.
In my current role, I supervise a crew that maintains traditional turf areas, landscape beds, wildlife, water quality in our ponds, snow/ice management during winter, urban forest management, and natural lands restoration.

How do you use your native plant and/or prairie knowledge in your career today?
On a daily basis, I share my knowledge of identifying adventive and native plants with my staff and for annual reseeding efforts of native plants in our low-mow zones and natural lands restoration sites. As a certified arborist, I use my arboricultural background and native plant knowledge to site trees to their growing requirements prior to planting. I have also led plant/ tree walks on campus for guests and students.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your current work?
I thrive in collaborative and innovative atmospheres. Everyday presents a new challenge to overcome and to work collaboratively with clients from across the campus.

What native plant/prairie classes or trainings were especially important to your career?
There isn’t just one class or training which stands out, but a conglomeration of all past classes, teachers and reading. I enjoy seeking out new learning opportunities including traveling to see plants in situ, which helps me understand them better and how they can be applied in our urban and built environments. When searching for classes or trainings, I focus on local leaders and respective organizations such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, who offers plant centric classes throughout the year.

What other subjects have you studies that have been important to your career?
Having an basic understanding of computer applications helps, along with geographic information systems mapping, leadership training, attending local, national and international plant societies conferences and reaching out to folks who might share a same interest on social media have all been important.

Please describe volunteer or field work that was formative to your education and career.
Volunteering has been incredibly important to who I am and strive to be. A personal motto of mine is to serve others. Volunteering is a means to serve others and too make connections. All volunteer work is essential and worthwhile. I have volunteered in all three states I have lived and its usually plant centric, but not always. Volunteer in something you are passionate about, but sometimes volunteer in something completely random too. These new experiences create new neural pathways and can help sustain adult learning and emotional intelligence.

What materials and technology are must-haves for your field?
A smart device in this day and age.

What advice would you give students or others wanting to go into your field?
Stay curious. Keep learning. Grow your network and stay engaged. Don’t stop asking questions or help from your peers.

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