I have wandered campus and traveled the state to learn from dozens of faculty members about the state of UF/IFAS science. They have been warm, insightful and accommodating. In fact, they have been so nice to me that it took eight months before one of them drew blood.
It happened when I visited Sandy Wilson’s annual and perennial gardening class. She greeted me by reaching for my right ear and yanking.
It was all part of my Florida gardening education. I had been helping my wife with plantings in our yard the previous evening, and this was probably when the tick had attached to my ear. Wilson plucked it, and I bled from the spot for the next 10 minutes.
Things improved from there. Wilson’s students took me out behind the classroom building to tour a dazzling display of plants they had grown in barrel planters.
Megan Tachev explained how she had arranged her euphorbias and nemesias and other plants according to the thriller-filler-spiller formula. Tall plants take center stage as thrillers with bright, vivid colors. Fillers with bushy foliage surround the bright plants. Spillers droop over the container’s edge to create a waterfall effect.
Back inside, the students were in charge of the day’s lecture. One of them, Doctor of Plant Medicine student Heather Kalaman, presented her work investigating various plant properties such as duration of blooms and floral rewards. I was pleased to see the research and teaching missions come together when she mentioned that among those plants she analyzed for pollinator attraction was Bloomify Rose lantana, a cultivar developed by Zhanao Deng (whom I featured in my November Greenline column) at our Gulf Coast Research and Education Center.
Wilson slapped a bandage on my ear and sent me on my way. The nick from the tick did not prevent me from getting an earful from the future of the green industry. The takeaway from my visit was we have the pipeline for the future talent your industry will need.
These students were not only gaining proficiency growing plants, but proving themselves able communicators who share their work with the public—in this case, me—with enthusiasm and authority. They will be the ambassadors for plants which our state’s nurseries and landscape firms need to promote the industry.
You can help them get there. Please consider offering them internships, inviting them to your businesses, participating in our College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Career Expo or mentoring a student one-on-one. It’s a priority of mine to expand our beyond-the-classroom learning experiences (see my December Greenline column for more information).
Then keep an eye out for these students when they graduate. If they were plants, they’d all be thrillers.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).