On a breezy summer day at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), we sat down in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden with gardener, Katie Bronson to revive our interview series, NYC Makers. Before her career of more than 18 years as a gardener, Katie received a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Pratt Institute and a Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Landscape Design from George Washington University. She now also has a certificate in Plant Identification from the New York Botanical Garden and teaches courses in plant identification and horticulture through The Garden’s initiative to continue environmental education. If you’ve ever visited the New York Botanical Garden, chances are you’ve seen some of her work, especially if you’ve passed the Marjorie G. Rosen Seasonal Walk or The Garden’s latest greenhouse art installation by artist, Ebony G. Patterson, which Katie assisted in planting. She spends most of her time as a horticulturist, or plant cultivation and management specialist, advancing the Everett Garden, lending an experienced hand to the garden’s exhibits, and teaching.
Julia Chorun, Untapped Cities: What made you decide to work for NYBG specifically? Were plants always your passion?
Katie Bronson: So, no actually. I originally wanted to work in art! I went to Pratt Institute for Fine Arts and was most interested in museum curation and anything having to do with visual arts. What landed me here was honestly needing a salary, you know the job market was hard, but I had experience in landscape and plant identification from a job I worked part-time when I was younger, so I applied here knowing I could do the work. I had enjoyed working outside and with nature before and 20-something years later, we’re still here! The plan might have been different when I first came here, but I enjoy what I do and I plan on being here until I retire. There’s definitely a design part to planting and arranging the garden so I still get some of what I majored in here.
Untapped Cities: What do your daily tasks look like?
Katie Bronson: Well most of what we all do in the morning is the stuff that might get in the way of guests later in the day like the watering or weeding. That way, they can walk through without obstacles or things like that. As you saw before, I do most of the watering in the morning before we open so the hose isn’t in the way. The daily task that takes up the most time is probably the invasive species, it takes a while to uproot all of them since they’re persistent. The rest of the day may depend on events, preparing for exhibits or something like that, or the courses I teach through the Garden in plant identification. We have some new things coming to the Children’s Adventure Garden, so pretty soon, planting and landscaping will take up more of my day.
Untapped Cities: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Katie Bronson: Probably working with the plants or framing a space with them. I really like arranging certain plants by color or type. Even the space around us might be a good example, I really enjoyed deciding what should go where and making it what it is now. Something I really liked doing was the topiaries. I worked with other gardeners in the Children’s section to choose the plants that covered the caterpillars that were designed for the kids to look at up close and study the plants we used. We celebrated their birthday recently, so I got to update their look and we included birthday hats. Choosing the plants was tricky because I had to be mindful of the colors that would cover the caterpillar’s body and head. The purple would sprout from the light green we used on the head, and I loved that addition because it added a pop of contrast. We’ve got a lot of silvers, and I didn’t want it to stand out too much from the head in a way that didn’t match but the kids seem to like it and the process turned out great.
Untapped Cities: What work in the garden are you most proud of? What have you enjoyed working on the most?
Katie Bronson: Aside from the caterpillars that I think are pretty cool, I really love this spot at the entrance of Everett that I planted. It’s an arrangement of plants with colors I think go beautifully together. I like the mix of colors, textures, and shapes there and I think the placement and the look of it all just really came together. Apart from that, I’d say the seasonal walk by the front of the park. I helped construct that and I think it’s a really beautiful spot, especially during this time for people to just walk through and enjoy. It features the plants and flowers we chose really well.
Untapped Cities: Do you often interact with garden guests?
Katie Bronson: I don’t interact with guests the way the tour leaders or front entrance workers do. My work is mostly with the plants and the team at the children’s garden. You know, occasionally a guest will ask for directions or a question about the type of plant they’re looking at, but aside from those small moments, most of my interactions probably happen in class, in the courses I teach through the education programs here (NYBG) about horticulture. Students there ask questions and we do walk-throughs in the gardens to get on-site experience, so that’s where I get the most one-on-one or group interactions.
Untapped Cities: Are there any obstacles to maintaining certain plants? Do some require extra care?
Katie Bronson: Yea, there are always some plants that require a bit more work than others. The invasive species like the weeds that grow along the bushes, or any plant that soaks up excess water from other plant life and disturbs the regular wildlife we have around has to be removed. Other things like weather, hungry animals, or things like that are always a factor but since those are regular problems, we know how to adjust to it most times or how to build up the things they wear down.
Untapped Cities: What kind of wildlife roams the garden?
Katie Bronson: So, there are a lot more wildlife types than you’d imagine. Lots of squirrels, everywhere, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes that run around, and so many types of birds. There was a common snapping turtle on our way in, you’ll see them around. We actually have bird tours around the forest and if you’re lucky, they’ll land on you. It’s just really cool to see how many different types there are up close, so it’s worth checking out.
Untapped Cities: What’s your favorite Untapped spot in the city?
Katie Bronson: I really love The New York Public Library. I know that might not fit into what Untapped qualifies as or be a hidden spot, but I really enjoy going there. The architecture, the paintings, the layout of it all, it’s very artistic and beautiful. I like the quiet and just all of it really. I like any museum in the city, most art museums. I like to just walk around and see things there and see the art.
Untapped Cities: Do You have any places on your NYC Bucket List?
Katie Bronson: Not exactly haha. I don’t live in the city so I don’t have any off the top of my head that I’ve always thought about. Strangely, I don’t think I’ve been to enough of New York’s other gardens, I would love to go to different gardens in the city and walk around and experience that.
Untapped Cities: Is there anything you’d change about New York?
Katie Bronson: Affordable housing. I think it comes from a deeper level, like through the government, but I think if the city were to make housing more affordable, more people would have access to education programs and would be closer to good things about the city, like gardens, art, or things like that.