The New Generation

Meet six young horticulturists who are helping to shape how America gardens.

By Ken Druse

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Next Generation Horticuluralist: Kristin DeSouzaThe Protector: Kristin DeSouza

Some people in the locavore movement take the idea further—they consider wild and native plants fair game for gourmet dining. Does harvesting plants from the wild represent a threat? What if everyone went out and picked ramps, for instance?

“When I came to the Garden in the Woods,” says Kristin DeSouza, age 31, describing her introduction to the home of the New England Wildflower Society “I proposed expanding the homeowner ‘Idea Garden’ to include a section of edible perennial plants native to North America with an emphasis on New England.”

DeSouza’s edible garden is now 4,000 square feet and includes favorites like elderberries, hazelnuts, mountain cranberries, pawpaws, fiddlehead ferns, and ramps.

Ramps are the first greens of the growing season. Their flavor has been described as a cross between onion and garlic. This has made them a popular subject for wild collection. “Ramping” is an annual rite of spring for foragers, but the plants have been decimated by overharvesting in some areas. DeSouza suggests growing them from seeds or bulbs.

DeSouza earned a Bachelor of Science and a degree in landscape architecture, “but I was too far removed from plants,” she says, and so she went to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston for 2 years. She worked for a landscape architect “to honor my degree,” but then did a stint at Central Park in New York City, sourcing native plants. She received a fellowship to go to England and work at some of Britain’s great institutions, including Kew Gardens, Sheffield University (where she planted green roofs), and the Eden Project, the geodesic-domed “biomes” in Cornwall.

Returning to the United States in 2007, she tried farming in Vermont, but her passion for native plants drew her to Framingham, Massachusetts, and the Garden in the Woods. She works today as the senior horticulturist and plant records coordinator, overseeing a database of the public garden’s collections.

DeSouza’s mission is to help people know more about local plants and use them in their gardens. “Older generations focused on plant aesthetics. My generation looks beyond the ornamental to qualities like whether a plant is edible, medicinal, attractive to native wildlife and pollinators, and good for crafting,” she says. “We talk about cultural identity with native plants—a sense of place. Even a yard that has been flattened by construction, where native plants have been pushed off, can have plants brought back so you know where you are.”

Her goal for the future? “I want to live simply by putting in honest hardworking days where I get my hands dirty, and inspire others to do that, as well.”

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