Horticulturalists, arborists and visitors alike find peace at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. Northwest Wanderings is an occasional column that explores places and communities through photos.
If you need the cool tones of a computer screen at work for eight hours a day, these jobs are not for you. If you need the World Wide Web close at hand all the time, these jobs are not for you. To be dressed for success as a horticulturalist or arborist at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG) you’ll need a layered existence and a love of the outdoors. This is besides the knowledge of plant species and weeds. It starts with sturdy pants — Carhartts. Rugged rain boots and work boots. Vibram soles for stability on uneven terrain. Breathable gloves, usually of fabric and rubber with a palm that grips. Hats for rain or sun. Durable, comfortable knee pads. And strong tools. The Leonard Classic Soil Knife is a top choice. It can take over 300 pounds of pressure on its 6-inch blade. The blade has depth markings for planting bulbs. It has a serrated edge for cutting through roots and soil. A spading fork, rake and shovel should be close at hand. Horticulturalist Joanna Long is battling bindweed, a tough, climbing vine that wraps itself around other plants. It has a large and strong root system. The weed will not win. She cuts deep with her orange-handled knife and removes the root and the tall vine from the Cascadia Forest at UWBG. She wrestles it free. “We never run out of work here,” Long says. On 230 acres, the botanic gardens include the Washington Park Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture. About 40,000 plant representing 98 countries make their home there, says Ray Larson, curator of living collections. “We are in the top five national collections for maples, magnolias, oaks, mountain ash, hollies, viburnums and the family Pinaceae — pines, firs, spruces, larches, hemlocks and true cedars.” Ron Schmaltz used to work in I.T., information technology. He was an application architect, designing software and solving those technical glitches beyond rebooting. It was never-ending, 24-hour-a-day, always-on-call job for computer support — 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning. When something went down, someone called. “It dominated my life.” Now he’s weeding in Rhododendron Glen as a garden stewards assistant. Four years ago he “gave up that golden chain” and “found peace in the arboretum” after taking horticulture classes at Edmonds Community College. “I paid $500 a quarter to then work for free as an intern” at UWBG. “Weeding is Zen-like,” Schmaltz says. “It’s time with the soil. I like to smell the soil. I like to lay down and see the things living in the soil.” He says he can see it change week after week. In the background he can hear bird songs and the wind, and “I feel appreciated. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked.” Once again, the weeds will not win and “people walking by say ‘thank you.’” Related: See more Northwest Wanderings here.