Want to be immersed in the business of public horticulture? We spoke to Dr Tamara Fleming, director of the Longwood Gardens Fellows Program, and two fellows who completed the programme last year, about their highlights, top career tips and what they think makes a wonderful workplace.
Dr Fleming, you’re now on your second intake of fellows, how does it feel to have completed the first year?
It feels great! It’s always exciting to start new initiatives and this programme is certainly no different. While we’re on our second cohort, we’re still refining the programme to ensure it meets the industry’s and fellows’ needs. That’s an ongoing process.
Any proud moments from the last year?
Absolutely! The inaugural cohort – Kaslin Daniels, Neil Gerlowski, Patrick MacRae, and Julia Thomé – did an outstanding job on their cohort project, Guide and Toolkit for New and Emerging Gardens which is available for download from both the Follow the Fellows webpage and the American Public Gardens Association’s website. They also presented the project at the Association’s annual conference and received significant complimentary feedback. The toolkit is sure to be a huge benefit to the industry.
I’m quite proud, too, that the cohort has begun the next part of their careers in fantastic positions around the world from Mexico to Singapore. That’s a testament to their skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities. Actually, if I’m honest, just watching the fellows develop during the past year has been a privilege.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Longwood Gardens Fellows Program and how it works?
Put simply, it’s a leader development programme for ‘plant people.’ The more technical explanation is that it’s a 13-month residential working and learning experience designed to further develop and refine high-potential individuals' leadership skills. It’s tuition-free and offers a monthly stipend, housing, pragmatic and individualised leader development opportunities, and immersion into the business of public horticulture.
Programme content is grounded in the disciplines of leadership, organisational behaviour, and nonprofit management, and begins with an introspective onboarding process. The programme is designed similarly to the highest-quality leader development programmes available today with 25% of the focus spent on text and case-based discussions, 35% spent on learning from regional and global public horticulture and cultural leaders, and 40% spent on pragmatic experiences gained via departmental immersion, a two-month field placement, and a collective cohort project.
It really is a unique opportunity in our industry.
"We teach the disciplines of leadership, organisational behaviour, and non-profit governance in the very specific context of public horticulture. The content includes leading edge social science research matched with pragmatic experiences that leaders need to be effective in our industry."
Why did you decide to launch this programme?
Previously, Longwood offered a graduate programme with a master’s degree in conjunction with the University of Delaware. However, we found that many of the individuals coming to the Longwood Graduate Program weren’t necessarily coming for the master’s degree. They were coming for the experience of being at one of the world’s great gardens and all that brings. Also, we were hearing from global public horticulture leaders that they were concerned about succession - who would take their positions when they retired? We conducted interviews and focus groups, all of which led to the decision to evolve the programme into a leader development certificate programme.
What do you offer that no one else does?
We teach the disciplines of leadership, organisational behaviour, and non-profit governance in the very specific context of public horticulture. The content includes leading edge social science research matched with pragmatic experiences that leaders need to be effective in our industry.
What top tips would you offer those looking to embark on a leadership career in horticulture?
If you have a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience, you should apply for the fellows programme! You should always follow your passions too and be the absolute best at whatever you choose.
Watch this video to learn more about the Longwood Gardens Fellows Program
Patrick MacRae, now director of public programs and education at The Garden Conservancy, and Kaslin Daniels, assistant director of operations at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, both completed the Longwood Gardens Fellows Program last year.
Why did you decide to join the Longwood Gardens Fellows Program over any other?
Patrick MacRae: The fellows programme was a perfect complement to my existing skill set. I was attracted to the programme’s explicit focus on leadership skills development. Many people find themselves in leadership positions without having a background knowledge of leadership theory. I think taking a year to learn about myself as a leader and to hone my abilities will be invaluable as I move forward in my career.
Kaslin Daniels: I reached a point in my horticulture career where I was looking to advance to a leadership position in order to make an impact on the lives of city dwellers, my main aspiration being to bridge the botanical richness of gardens with the democratic and inclusive practices of urban parks. The Longwood Fellows Program offers a holistic, fully-funded, residential educational opportunity tailored to the individual’s needs and goals, which seemed like exactly the type of experience I needed to catapult my career.
Looking back, what would you say were the highlights?
PM: The opportunity to develop an extensive network of supportive mentors, advisors and peers within the public garden field was one of the most rewarding and longstanding benefits of the fellows program. Longwood is excellent as a builder of bridges. In my new role, I have already reached out to several professional colleagues around the world for advice and support. You can’t over-value the importance of that sort of network, and I built that thanks to Longwood.
KD: One of the unique aspects of the Longwood Fellows Program is the enriching relationship building that occurs. As fellows, we are assigned a mentor who guides and provides insight throughout the programme; we are offered numerous networking opportunities to connect us with other leaders in the field; and we live, work, and travel with the other fellows in the cohort. It turns out that leadership is all about relationship building; to learn by collaborating, problem-solving, negotiating, consulting, and receiving feedback from others was an invaluable learning experience.
Any challenging moments?
PM: Living and working with your peers is a major challenge, but also a fantastic opportunity to build strong relationships that will last throughout your career. The fellows programme is truly immersive. I found that living with people who are different from me helped me to overcome my own internal biases and to approach my colleagues with a truly open mind.
KD: With any growth comes growing pains. The Longwood Fellows Program is a rigorous and intense period of learning and hands-on, project-based work, and admittedly, there were several times that I felt outside of my comfort zone. Acknowledging that a healthy dose of discomfort is necessary in order to grow and advance is one way I coped with challenging moments.
What makes Longwood a special place to work?
PM: Longwood Gardens has a very special - and very strong - organisational culture. As a fellow, I was welcomed into a supportive family of people who care deeply about our mission and are passionate about our role as a leader in the industry. Now that I’ve left Longwood, I have an abiding sense that I am a part of a community; ever present, ever supportive. Longwood becomes a part of your permanent identity.
KD: Longwood Gardens is an exceptional place to work for many reasons. It goes without saying that working in and contributing to a place where people seek beauty and retreat is a privilege. Staff and volunteers have a shared understanding of the mission of the organisation, and work in harmony to achieve that mission. Education is emphasised at all levels and within all departments and there is a strong culture of excellence, community, stewardship, and collaboration. Lastly, Chester County is one of the most charming corners of the world, and it was an absolute joy for this city girl to explore the natural beauty, diverse gardens, and unique culture that it has to offer.
Patrick MacRae: "I met so many enthusiastic and inspirational public horticulture leaders".
What learning opportunities did it open up for you?
PM: Besides learning about leadership theory and practices, the fellows programme was a fantastic opportunity to develop an in-depth understanding of our industry. I met so many enthusiastic and inspirational public horticulture leaders and was exposed to an amazing diversity of leadership styles, governance models and organisational structures. I have a much more comprehensive appreciation for our industry.
KD: In addition to the core curriculum and cohort project that the fellows experience together, I had the opportunity to explore other aspects of garden management through the flexible curriculum component, including fundraising, project management, event planning, and garden start-up processes. These learning experiences will undoubtedly open a world of opportunities for me in my horticulture career.
What skills have you developed that will set you apart in the horticulture industry?
PM: I spent a substantial amount of time learning about strategic planning. I firmly believe that thoughtful planning is absolutely necessary for organisational success. Building alignment around a plan is also a crucial skill. My commitment to planning, and my advocacy of planning as a tool, is something that sets me apart and that is directly tied to my experiences at Longwood.
KD: The Longwood Fellows Program equipped me with a practical and theoretical leadership education that is specific to public horticulture. The programme has not only prepared me with management best practices and tactical administrative skills, but has also given me the tools to think and lead strategically and hone my unique leadership style. Finally, being part of the Longwood community, I now belong to a diverse network of garden leaders with whom I can consult and collaborate in the future.
"The fellows programme opened up many doors and has led to a number of fantastic opportunities. I think the real value of the programme is that you can use it as a tool to get wherever you want to go."
What career prospects has the programme led to?
PM: The fellows programme opened up many doors and has led to a number of fantastic opportunities. I think the real value of the programme is that you can use it as a tool to get wherever you want to go. Longwood’s reputation of cultivating leaders is long-standing, and the fellows programme will certainly build upon that legacy.
KD: This experience has opened the door to a career as a leader in all aspects of garden management and operations. Whereas before my experience in gardens was mostly tactical/operational, my experience at Longwood also includes programming, strategic planning, project management, board relations and governance, organisational culture, and more.
How would you describe a ‘wonderful workplace’?
PM: A wonderful workplace is one in which a diverse network of colleagues with different perspectives and expertise come together around a shared set of values and a common mission. It is possible to achieve excellence when your team of colleagues is committed to building and sustaining impact.
KD: To me, a wonderful workplace is one where a diverse group of people work in harmony with each other to serve the organisation's mission; where staff and volunteers are empowered and feel they are serving a greater purpose; and where learning and development occurs at all levels in order to grow and effect positive change both in and outside of the organisation.
What’s your idea of a successful career in horticulture?
PM: I think that everyone who works in our industry, from gardeners and growers to educators and CEOs, all have the opportunity and the responsibility to lead the narrative that horticulture is important, relevant and impactful. A successful career is one that helps to move the needle - that engages people and contributes meaningfully to the conversations that impact our field and our world.
KD: Public horticulture is a wonderfully diverse field and a successful career in it can take infinite forms. Most broadly, I think success in horticulture means creating beauty (in its countless expressions); having a positive impact on the community; and inspiring and preparing future generations.
What top tips would you offer those looking to embark on a career in horticulture or join the fellows programme?
PM: Horticulture is extremely rewarding. I no longer work day-to-day with plants, but I am still deeply moved by the power of gardens, and I am in a fortunate position to be able to share my love of gardening with a national audience. I encourage people with an interest in horticulture to think about the impact that they want to make, and then chart a course to make that happen. As an industry, we need advocates and ambassadors at every level. Fortunately, we have the fellows programme to help educate the next generation of impactful leaders.
KD: Start by asking yourself, "why?" Let your cause propel you.
Where next for you?
PM: I am now the director of public programs and education at the Garden Conservancy. I have an opportunity to engage a national network of people passionate about gardens and gardening and to build a community around a shared value - that gardens are artistic expressions with substantial cultural merit.
KD: In September I will head to the tropics to begin as assistant director of operations at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, a relatively new but already renowned garden with 10 million annual visitors. There I will manage a large area of the outdoor gardens and lead development projects. I am thrilled to contribute to such an impressive garden at this exciting stage of growth, and to be able to utilise my many lessons learned from the Longwood Fellows Program.