Tending to the picturesque 25 acre River Farm, once owned by George Washington, would be a dream for any horticulturist. For James Gagliardi, a graduate of the Longwood Graduate Program who now works as River Farm’s lone horticulturist, it’s a reality.
The farm is home to the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) and Gagliardi is responsible for all the plantings and running the maintenance for the 25 acre garden, as well as writing any educational brochures, developing educational panels, and doing community outreach. He is the first to say that none of it would have been possible had it not been for the experience he gained at the Longwood Graduate Program.
“The Longwood Graduate Program helped me a lot for what I’m doing now. It has one of the strongest and greatest networks within the public horticulture field.”
Gagliardi said now that the program is providing 5 graduates a year, the network is expanding and there are graduates of the program all over the world in public horticulture.
“There’s a strong network among fellows and even the people who haven’t come out of the program know the experience and the education that you are getting from the program.”
AHS has strong ties with the Longwood Graduate Program. Katy Moss Warner (76’), the President Emeritus of AHS, is a graduate of the program, and when Gagliardi was applying for his position, one of his classmates, Grace Chapman (08’), was doing her thesis at AHS.
“AHS had a really strong connection with the Longwood Graduate Program so they knew the kind of person that I had to be and the kind of experiences I had. So I am very sure that it helped me get my job here.”
Attending the program from 2006-08, Gagliardi said that the five-person class had a mix of people with varying professional horticulture experience. He came to the program right after completing his undergraduate work at the University of Connecticut and said that getting the job at AHS was due in large part to the professional, hands on experience he gained while at the Longwood Graduate Program.
“I was 25 when I was getting out and I didn’t have the work experience that some other people had. But because the Longwood Graduate Program features experiential learning, it provided a good solid basis for me when I was applying for jobs with botanic gardens.”
While he said that finding a favorite part of the program was tough since he enjoyed it so thoroughly, Gagliardi did admit that the trip he and his classmates took to Ecuador for three weeks was hard to beat.
“The travel with the program is unbelievable. We looked at botanical gardens in Ecuador and went everywhere from the Amazon Rainforest up into the mountains and out to the Galapagos Islands to see plants in their native habitats, and what they’re doing in different countries for conservation. It was beyond amazing.”
Robert Lyons, director for the Longwood Graduate Program, said that Gagliardi’s passion for the program was evident before he even finished his undergraduate degree.
“James made it a point to visit us prior to applying and saw that what we offered would be a great fit for his career goals.”
Lyons said that once Gagliardi was accepted to the program, he “soon became one of the most resourceful of all the Longwood Fellows, so it is not surprising to me to see how he has combined his interest and knowledge of horticulture with efficient gardening practices that he can now share with others.”
Those efficient gardening practices are now being displayed in his professional work at AHS, and that work isn’t going unnoticed. In just the past month, Gagliardi has been quoted for his horticulture expertise in two USA Today pieces, a TIME Money column and a Washington Post piece.
Once again, Gagliardi credits the Longwood Graduate Program with putting him on the path to success.
“The program is created to produce leaders in public horticulture. It’s course driven, it’s thesis driven, and it’s project driven; the combination of those varied experiences gave me the strength I needed in various means of management and knowledge. The Longwood Program is the premier program to go to for public horticulture. Delaware is definitely the place to get that education.”
Story by Adam Thomas