Discover NGA's Career Connections
Read short bios from each NGA staff member, find out what led them into their careers, and why gardening and connecting with nature is important. Read more »
After spending 20 years as an independent contractor for numerous companies, Lisa Lindmark has found her “best job” as a horticulture instructor at a 600+ patient mental health hospital. Her prior experience working with Fortune 500 companies and travel agencies provided her with valuable education and the opportunity to travel worldwide, but she found herself spending too much time in the office at her computer. This led her to make a career change and “go with her passion”. The following interview was conducted with Lisa to gain further information about her career as a Horticulture Instructor. A career interview is an excellent way for students to learn more about how using their hobbies and interests can lead them to job opportunities and career paths. This interview, in part, is to serve as an example of how a career interview may be conducted.
Hi Lisa. Could you please describe your job?
I am a Horticulture Instructor at a mental health hospital in Southern California. My job, as a credentialed teacher, is to teach students (residents of the facility) practical and necessary skills to prepare them for employment in numerous horticultural-related fields. I run the Fertile Ground Nursery which consists of a large greenhouse, shade house, gazebo, organic vegetable gardens, butterfly and bee garden, tropical fruit garden, and cut flower garden.
I created a 12-week course titled, “Careers in Horticulture” to prepare my students for employment. One of the favorite classes is Market Gardening because students are able to plant, grow, and prepare products to be sold at the farmer’s markets, plant sales, and flower sales.
Will you describe your students?
There are three different populations I teach within this hospital. The first group consists of individuals who are incarcerated in the onsite prison, the Penal Code compound. These individuals have committed crimes and were then judged to be Guilty by Reason of Insanity, Felony Incompetent to Stand Trial, or are inmates of Los Angeles or Orange County who are seeking inpatient treatment. There are no inmates convicted of murder or sexual crimes at this facility.
Non-Penal Code students are located outside of the prison but reside in the hospital onsite. Most of these students suffer from numerous diagnosed mental and physical illnesses.
The third group of students reside in the Skilled Nursing units. They are typically older students who require 24-hour attention, including psychiatric care. There are younger students in this group who are recovering from surgeries or have more serious health issues. The horticulture classes for this group tend to be more therapeutic.
What drew you to this career?
I love anything to do with plants. My parents grew interesting fruits when I was a child. From the time we were very young my sister and I always had a garden. During the years I spent working in an office, I continued as an avid grower and floral designer. For many years I pursued trading and exchanging exotic flowers to use in my floral designs. I began experimenting with plants that were supposedly not suited to our climate and had success. I joined various organizations related to my botanical interests to learn more about those plants. I was able to obtain a wealth of knowledge from these experiences.
I began selling some uncommon varieties of plants on eBay when it was at its height of popularity. I was surprised by others’ willingness to spend hundreds of dollars on the collections I had acquired.
When I was ready to leave my office job, I researched career opportunities in horticulture and learned about Horticulture Therapy. I have long recognized the therapeutic benefits of horticulture and identified this as the career path for me. I searched a horticultural therapy website to find contact information of a local expert. He lived nearby and became a great mentor. With his help, I began working in the garden at a hospital with veterans who suffered from psychiatric issues. During this time I learned the value of patience, kindness, generosity, a good sense of humor, and guidance.
How did the garden begin at the facility where you are currently employed? Were you part of the initial process?
I began working for my current job as a volunteer. I maintained that status for two years until a paid position became available. During that time there was not a garden. A greenhouse and shade house were available, but were not being used for growing. The surrounding grounds had nothing but gopher holes, weeds, and a dead hedge.
I began filling the greenhouse and shade house with plants from my own collection and those provided through the help of my horticulture contacts. We now have a true nursery at our site and are making progress towards our multi-year plan of landscaping and hardscaping the ½ acre area.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Working with no budget. We are a state hospital suffering from the state financial crisis. While I waited for my position to become available there were layoffs and a hiring freeze. This was a stressful time, but once I landed my dream job the rest didn’t matter to me. Money and staffing are, and will continue to be, in short supply. You have to accept the fact that much of what you want and need simply won’t be available.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Introducing plants, gardening, and nature to the individuals at the hospital is one of the greatest joys of the job. The students are inquisitive. We literally take time to smell the roses, observe ladybugs in various stages of development, check out the growth of our giant pumpkins, and enjoy life around us.
Because I love what I do they respond well to my enthusiasm and passion for nature. For some of these individuals, they have never had the satisfaction of growing a plant. Their meals, schedules, medications, and many other daily events are administered by staff. Gardening allows students an opportunity to be the nurturer and caregiver. The act of watering and tending a plant offers a feeling of empowerment and self-sufficiency that is new to most who suffer from mental health issues.
What advice would you give students who are considering a career in horticulture?
Go for it! There are so many directions you can take. It’s an interesting field. If it’s your passion, you will love this industry. It pays to volunteer. You will prove that you are willing to work for what you want and that you are serious about it. It will also give you an idea of what the work will be so you can decide if it is for you prior to the application and interview process.
Follow your passion
Through this interview Lisa has explained how following her passion has led her to the best job she could imagine for herself. Lisa states, “Everyday someone at work hears me say, “I love my job!” While this position may not be for everyone it fits her well. Each one of us has the opportunity to have our dream job. To start the process, we just have to dream and be willing to work.