Get Growing Blog

What does a horticulturalist do at a public garden?

October 10, 2023


When asked to consider my favorite part of working at Holden Forests and Gardens, two answers immediately come to mind.  First, the incredible team of people I have the privilege to work with daily and second, the diversity of tasks associated with being a horticulturist in the field of public horticulture.

While gardening tasks like weeding, planting, and mulching are repeated on an annual basis and are certainly a large part of the work of a horticulturist, so are coming up with creative ways to engage the public in our love of plants.  This passion for plants is conveyed in many ways through:

  • care of the garden by manipulating the land and orchestrating the plants to optimize their health and performance.
  • public education by teaching classes and leading tours.
  • using design by selecting plants to illicit emotion within a natural space and arranging them to create a sense of wonder.

All these tasks require knowledge of plants, but executing these tasks requires different skills, both creative and technical, as well as proficiency with a variety of tools.  Almost all the horticulturists I have met possess the same vast body of knowledge and are able to seamlessly pivot from one task to another throughout the day. 

The pictures below demonstrate our horticulture team in action at the Arboretum demonstrating the variety of work required within the role. 

Caring for the garden

Care and management of the land is at the heart of a horticulturist daily work.  This is achieved through planting, weeding, watering, mulching, amending soil, and composting.  Heavy equipment makes the job a little lighter and allows the team to work more quickly! The job requires surveying naturally occurring plant populations, collecting seed, and propagating as well. Either way, the team is prepared to do whatever is needed.

We use tractors to load materials, mow grass, and Caroline Tait is giving this one a test drive before the fall forest fest tours.

Public Education

Horticulturists deliver public education by giving presentations, teaching classes and leading tours – both in the community and on site.  Additionally, we write blogs and articles and generate text for signs out in the gardens.  While we like for the plants and the land to demonstrate the stories we are trying to share, a bit of verbal or written communication often helps with interpretation!


Design is where the art and science of being a Horticulturist blend – selecting plants for the appropriate growing conditions and then arranging them for interest. The Horticulturists at THA often work on their garden design plans during the winter months.  Other designs transpire on whim while working in the field or are generated during project planning meetings. It is through design that we are able to engage guests of all ages to inspire wonder.

Garden design for the Rhododendron Discovery Garden, prepared digitally.  

If you are looking for a new career and not sure which path to take, why not consider public horticulture?  There is enough diversity in the role of a horticulturist to remain engaged throughout the year – both physically and creatively – and variable weather always adds an element of surprise to keep you on your toes even when a task may seem mundane.

Annie Rzepka Budziak

Annie Rzepka Budziak

Director of Arboretum Horticulture

Ann Rzepka Budziak has been a Horticulturist at the Holden Arboretum since 2008. In this capacity, she maintains the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden, collects, and propagates seed for use within the garden, assists with heritage species monitoring, and helps maintain Holden’s commitment to the Center for Plant Conservation. Ms. Rzepka was previously employed by the Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District where she served as their Natural Resources Specialist. She earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Hiram College. Ann lives in Munson Twp. with her husband Ryan and two daughters, Eliza and Rozalyn. In her spare time, she likes taking her dog Piper for long walks, playing the piano, gardening, practicing Taekwondo and rearranging her furniture.

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