Chicago gardener and self-confessed ‘plant geek’ Sylvia Schmeichel is certainly turning over a new leaf during her three-week placement at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
The 26-year-old is on a 10-month exchange visit to the UK, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Club of America, and is spending the first part of her assignment in Wales pursuing her special interest of sustainable garden management.
Said Sylvia: “I guess I’d have to say that I’m a nature lover and all -round plant geek; rockhound; mushroom finder and bug chaser. Public horticulture is my profession and my passion is connecting people to plants.”
Stateside, the Knoxville, Tennessee-born horticulturist works at Lurie Garden in the Millennium Park, Chicago. Here in Wales, she wasn’t really sure what to expect: “I’ve spent time in the polytunnels, concentrating on propagation and the control of pests and diseases. I’ve also helped with the pruning in the Great Glasshouse. I guessed I’d have to turn my hand to anything – but now here I am stuffing sheeps’ wool into a bull sculpture.”
This latest task came about when Sylvia spotted that Sally Matthews’ popular Garden sculpture of ‘Tarw’, the Welsh Black bull, was looking in need of a little TLC. The west Wales weather plays havoc with his Welsh sheeps’ wool interior and needs supplementing on occasion.
“It’s not what you’d expect but the deal is I get to keep a little of the wool which I plan to spin and then make into a souvenir of my time here in Wales.”
Sylvia is spending three weeks at the Garden before heading off to Kew where she’ll spend the next month. She’ll be returning to America in the new year.
“I really love it here in the Botanic Garden, “ she said. “It has a lot of really diverse elements and is very different to other botanic gardens. The big difference is that it is new and that is exciting because it means you can watch it actually grow and develop.”
Sylvia is most taken with the collection of Mediterranean plants in the Great Glasshouse where, she says, the job is as much about “preening” as it is about pruning to help make sure the plants are always looking their best for visitors. But she also adores the Garden’s Carmarthenshire setting: “The rolling hills remind me a bit of where I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. They get their name from their near-constant shroud of fog – and you get a lot of weather here, too!”
Before returning to the States, Sylvia is planning to meet up with her mum Marilyn and boyfriend Kerry to spend Christmas in Germany, where she has relatives.
She has a message for would-be visitors to the National Botanic Garden both from the States and from the UK: “It might be a little difficult to get here but, boy, it’s really worth it.”