CLEMSON, S.C. — Elizabeth Elmore once believed she didn’t have a knack for growing plants. As it turns out, her talent just needed some time to germinate.
“I didn’t have a green thumb when I was younger. When my parents would go out of town, they would say, ‘Water the plants for us.’ And they would all die,” she joked.
Suffice it to say Elmore has since learned a few things about horticulture. On May 11, when other members of her graduating class at Clemson University will walk the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum, the Columbia, S.C., native will board a plane to begin working at some of the most well-known and botanically diverse gardens in the world.
After being urged by her academic advisor, horticulture lecturer Ellen Vincent, to apply for the highly competitive Longwood Gardens Great Gardens of the World TRIAD Fellowship, Elmore learned recently she was one of only two students in the United States — and only six in the world — chosen for the program.
The TRIAD Fellowship is a partnership between the National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom; the Alliance of Hyogo in Awaji Island, Japan; and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Penn.
Each year, two horticulturists from each institution are chosen to participate in the Fellowship. The TRIAD Fellows spend four months living, working and learning in each of the world-class public gardens.
“Basically, you’re a world-traveling gardener and get to work under different bosses in different locations and learn the ways that people in different avenues and cultures do public horticulture,” Elmore said.
Elmore will work in four gardens across the United Kingdom this summer — in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Gloucestershire — all the while keeping a notebook for her immigration visa documenting her work at the various locations.
Her spell in the UK will be followed by four months at Longwood Gardens, where the fellowship opportunity began with an internship last summer, and then by four months in Japan.
With more than 1.5 million visitors last year, Longwood Gardens is the most popular public garden in the United States. Classes and lectures on garden-related subjects are also offered year-round, as well as programs for students who are interested in horticulture as a profession.
“It was owned by Pierre du Pont, and he originally built the Gardens because he went on world travels to places like Italy and saw the Italian water gardens and thought, ‘I want to bring that to the U.S. and let the U.S. citizens see what kind of gardens are out there,’” Elmore said.
While Elmore was interning at Longwood, Vincent traveled there to meet with her supervisor and discuss her progress. During the visit, she suggested Elmore apply for the TRIAD program.
“I just got a sense the program would be really good for her because she was still exploring,” Vincent said. “And when you’re still exploring and you’re adventurous, it makes this nice combination to do this type of a program. And she really liked the Longwood system. There is just the right amount of structure and freedom in that.”
While Elmore already knew about the fellowship program, she said it was Vincent’s urging that really made the idea take hold.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I don’t want to go straight to a regular 9-to-5 after college,’” she said.
With the highest grade-point average of any graduating senior in Horticulture, Elmore garnered one of two Outstanding HORT Senior Awards in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences this semester. And while Elmore clearly has the academic prowess to be deserving of such a prestigious fellowship, Vincent said it was her adventurousness and open-minded nature that made her perfectly suited for the program.
“She is an explorer within the field,” Vincent said. “Whatever she picks to do, she’s going to succeed at. And partly it’s the way she came to us: by trying other majors first. She did well at all of her former majors, but she was pursuing her passion. And she finds it in horticulture. More adventure is only going to make her a stronger contributor to the field.”
But as Vincent alluded to, Elmore’s path to becoming a rising star in the horticulture universe wasn’t exactly a straight line.
Having always loved science and nature, Elmore began her studies in biology and considered a future in the veterinary field before making the switch to nursing, which she believed to be a more practical approach.
“I really loved medicine, but it turns out that when I was working as a receptionist and vet tech at a veterinarian’s office, I realized I didn’t do well in that high-stress, do-or-die environment,” she said.
So, after two previous colleges and three previous majors, Elmore found her way to Clemson’s Horticulture department, where she quickly realized she’d found a home.
“I feel a stronger sense of community here at Clemson, and I really have a good rapport with my peers and my teachers,” Elmore said. “There’s just so much more support between us, and it’s the types of people where we all get along and we’re not judgmental; we’re all very open-minded. And that’s what I love about horticulture: Everybody is so open and willing to explore ideas.”
Having already worked at the S.C. Botanical Garden during her time at Clemson, Elmore said plant pathology, integrated pest management and plant physiology are her primary areas of interest in terms of horticulture research.
She admitted, however, that she is looking forward to a break from her studies to focus on building real-world work experience during her fellowship.
“Part of horticulture is hands-on experience, and you have to not only have the academic side, but also the hands-on, know-how-to-grow plants side, which makes us very versatile,” she said. “Since I’m relatively new to horticulture — I guess I didn’t have the patience or the interest when I was younger. But now I find it very, very therapeutic, and I’m learning a lot.”
Elmore said she hopes her acceptance into the TRIAD Fellowship will encourage others to apply to the program in the future.
“I hope other horticulture students would know this opportunity is available to them and for them to keep their eye open,” she said. “I think it would be such a good opportunity for more students.”
And while it took Elmore some time to come around to the realization that she had a passion for horticulture, Vincent said in many ways that mindset is what makes her future in the industry so promising.
“She doesn’t come quick to judge when it comes to the nuances that we’re faced with,” Vincent said. “She’s also a student of sustainability, so she’s looking for ways that are peacable, as well as healthy. She has a background in the health profession, which I see that materializing in the horticulture industry.
“So those are going to be the choices that she always makes. It’s not just purely about science; she’s after integrity, well-being and health. Those are the things that I think she will be looking for and integrating.”
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