Next Generation 2.0

The American garden scene is blooming.

By Ken Druse


One year ago, Organic Gardening presented four young people working in horticulture who we predicted would have lasting impacts on the professional and amateur aspects of our favorite passion. The week the magazine came out, some of the profiled people launched a Facebook group called Emergent: A Group for Growing Professionals. The group quickly reached 1,000 members. It seemed that young people working in horticulture from around the country were just waiting for a way to connect with each other and share ideas, experiences, and even job opportunities. The article initiated meet-ups at public gardens and trade shows. By popular demand, we introduce another group of young professionals, and we can’t wait to find out what presenting this set of gardeners will grow.

Brenden Armstrong

Brenden ArmstrongLike many young people today, Brenden Armstrong, 24, is interested in giving back. “I believe my role in the world is one of service,” he says. “My passion for horticulture began in a Lawrence, Kansas, high school greenhouse science class. From there, I worked at an organic chestnut orchard and in a retail garden center. My father urged me to attend the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture.”

Part of the NYBG's 2-year program is a 6-month internship. For that, Brenden interned at the U.S. National Arboretum doing plant breeding and germplasm preservation. Last summer, however, he was off to an internship at Walt Disney World, returning in the fall to Kansas State University to work toward a bachelor’s degree in horticulture.

Giving back? Brenden dreams big. “I want to develop a botanical garden in Lawrence,” he says. And it isn’t a pipe dream. He has been working with advisers to develop a business plan and has identified a site. “There would be well-rounded collections of woody and herbaceous plants, particularly focused on those that perform well in northeastern Kansas.”

Brenden has considered the mission: “I believe Americans are aware of the beauty of gardening and the benefits of healthy eating,” he says. “However, this awareness is often unaccompanied by the knowledge necessary to experience the benefits of horticulture and gardening. Creating a successful botanical garden will give people in my area the chance to understand horticulture’s incredible life-enriching potential.”

People might think this is a crazy idea, especially for a 24-year-old, and maybe one has to be a little crazy to think it can be done. But Brenden is undaunted. His next step is to present his plan to the Lawrence City Commission Sustainability Advisory Board, which oversees projects dedicated to the environment, education, and horticulture.

As far as Brenden is concerned, having a botanical garden isn’t a luxury; it is a necessity. But one in which the beauty nature offers is paramount.

Photo: M&E Photo Studio LLC