Plant Pro

Cecily Gill, 47, is the curator of horticulture at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, located at 2150 N. Alvernon Way. She's worked at the gardens for 16 years. A Tucson resident since 1976, Gill was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Phoenix. She earned her bachelor's degree in English at Arizona State University. As the curator of horticulture, she looks over about 1,200 different kinds of plants on 5 1/2 acres. The garden, in its current location, was officially created in 1974 on a homestead owned by Bernice Porter; she lived on the land until her death in 1983. Because spring is here--it starts on March 21--we decided it might be fun to talk to Gill about horticulture.

How in the heck does someone get into horticulture?

You get into it if you just can't keep your hands out of dirt.

OK. Can you give me a little more direction here?

It's different with different people. Some go through university programs. I did it by starting to work at nurseries and the Cooperative Extension. I also raised and sold herbs for several years, so that was my background.

What do you like about plants so much?

I would say it's the flowers and fragrances that are key. You put all this work into a garden, and that's your reward--beauty, fragrances, shade or something to eat. It's the stuff that gives you pleasure.

Do you have a garden at home?

I do.

That's interesting. I know many people who don't like to take their work home with them.

We tend to garden less intensely at home because we garden so intensely here. We usually love cacti, desert trees that bring in birds--we grow our favorite things.

Don't you ever get sick of plants?

Individual plants, yeah. If every time I walk by a certain plant, I get irritated, I realize it's about time to get rid of it. It's a process of getting annoyed by a plant.

How does a plant become annoying?

If it's not doing well, it mocks you. It says, "You are a lousy gardener." Sometimes, people call on us to fix a problem. Sometimes, I just end up throwing that problem away.

Hmm. Do you happen to have any kids?

No. It would be scary if my methods of child raising were similar. Seriously, I just find that some people would rather nurse a struggling plant much longer than I would.

What do you do with dead plants, anyway?

If they're diseased, we put them in the Dumpster. If they're in pretty good shape, we put them in the compost pile.

Have you ever had a plant funeral?

No, I can't say I've ever done that. You do get depressed for a while, sometimes.

Do you have a favorite plant? I promise not to tell the others.

No. I have ying and yang interests. I love cacti, but on the other hand, I grew herbs all my life, so I really enjoy them.

Do you have any garden advice you'd like to share?

Contact a resource. There are good resources out there--the botanical gardens, the university arboretum, the museums. These are places you can actually look at plants and see what works. Also, take a walk in your neighborhood and see what looks great. Get some books. Get two or three, not just one.

How about advice for those of us who live in apartments?

Just do it! If you live on the second floor, use saucers for pots. One of my first gardens was in a little dirt strip behind a townhouse during college. Wherever you go, plants can help you feel settled.

What kind of plants grow best in saucers?

When I mentioned saucers, I was talking about putting them under pots when you're on the second floor so water doesn't drip down to the first floor. You can't grow plants in saucers. But in pots, you can grow cacti, or flowers or even a vegetable or two. Maybe an orchid. Ask at the nurseries. Say, "My little porch is really sunny. Will this plant make it?"

Cool. So, do you have any embarrassing plant stories?

Well, I had this very old cut-leaf lilac that belonged to Mrs. Porter. I had never seen a lilac before in my life, and I thought it would be important to cut it back and have it fill out. I can't tell you how many years it took for the plant to recover.


Yeah. Plant goofs may be boring, but we all do them.

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