In January of this year, I had Camila Sanchez reach out to me. It turns one Camila is on the editorial team for the Voyage Baltimore asking if I was available for an interview for the upcoming weeks. I messaged her back and said I am available for the interview. How can I not take ahold of this amazing opportunity? I was able to conduct my interview with Voyage Baltimore on one of my off days; on February 21, 2023, my interview went LIVE!
Here is my interview draft of being published that I would LOVE to share with you. Aside of my interview draft, I would also like would love to provide intimate commentary of my answers and reflective thoughts. Link is at the bottom of this article incase if you wanted the whole experience. Cheers!
Today we’d like to introduce you to Brianne Schoener.
Hi Brianne, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I’ve had a long journey to get where I am today when it comes to my world of plants. I have found a home at a family-owned garden center in Chester, New Jersey as nursery manager and on-site horticulturist. I wear different hats at work where I get to make an impact when it comes to gardening pursuits. I self-proclaimed that I’m “your favorite plant girl” because I have solutions to help people have their dream garden. I also started my blog and social media to connect to the industry on a deeper level as a writer, photographer, and industry figure as The Botany Scholar in 2015.
Before The Botany Scholar developed, I actually tweeted on my personal account “what if I created some type of Twitter about just working at a garden center?”, my coworker who followed me on that account was behind it and he was like that seems like a pretty cool idea. However, I didn’t start out as the Botany Scholar, I jumped on this idea as Fata Fiori - Flower Fairy in Italian. It was not making the impact that I wanted and somehow I ended up creating the Botany Scholar. It has been working ever since! I must be doing something right!
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have started in the industry since I was 19. I’ve worked at two garden centers before working at the garden center I work at now. I have failed classes before getting my degree. I had to learn how to manage a department, I had to learn how to gain the trust of my customers, I had to juggle life and balance work duties. I’ve cried, I’ve got frustrated, I’ve felt it all trying to climb the ladder to get where I am now. Everything that I’ve been through has been worth it. You reap what you sow; I’ve been sharing my love with plants with everyone and I get to see it every day with my customers and everyone that I interact with
I was in Woody Plant Identification in my first semester of college and I remember walking around in that lecture along the campus. I noticed a bug on my classmate’s shirt and I kindly told him “excuse me there is a bug on your shirt”. My classmate made a comment of “if that’s your biggest worry than this industry isn’t for you.” I remember that moment SO clear because I had other career plans. I knew I did not want to work with plants. I really wanted to be in the classroom and teach Agricultural Education because I had such an extraordinary experience in the classroom and outside of the classroom by being a member of the National FFA Organization. I really wanted to give back because AgEd and FFA gave me so much. At that time, plants were not in my plans - little did I know it would be a huge part of my life. For me to get my degree, I had to work in the industry (my college called it a COOP program) and that’s when I first started working at my first garden center, I was there from May 2009 to December 2010; I happened to work there from age 19 to age 21. I tried to learn as best as I can but my focus was not there. I had my college workload, I was holding leadership state positions in FFA, I had not so healthy relationships, and I was trying to juggle a lot. The staff was amazing at what they do. The scale of that garden center was incredible, maybe a little bit too huge and I bit off more than I could chew at the time. I took a minor break from working all together after being let go and truly focused in being a college student. I went into retail and I really hated it. Luckily with the cards I was dealt with in my past, I did not get around to signing up for that COOP program which was an incentive to get out of retail and back into the garden center life. At this time, my college class workload was slowing down, I had no longer unhealthy relationships, and I was still involved in the New Jersey FFA Association but not on a scale as I once was - I was at a point in life where I was able to discover me. I started at my next garden center May 2012 and I was officially out of retail. This was my huge growing period and I was given really unique experiences here. From closing and opening the store, from being in charge overall plant care, making deliveries and picking up plants, and being in charge of attending Farmers’ Markets. I also worked with people who helped me grow and challenged me. I ended up completing my COOP and graduating college. I ended up being in a really healthy place and a healthy mind set all around. Unfortunately the garden center went under and I was back looking for a garden center to call home. It was a three month scrounging and traveling to find my new home. You’ll read shortly how I got where I am and with my garden center but I am so honored to have a garden center that I call home.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I strive to make an impact filled with knowledge and kindness. I am really proud of committing myself to know my customers at the garden center. I make sure I keep myself up to date with industry knowledge as a horticulturist. I make sure I take care of my customers when it comes to plant care at work. I make sure I take my experience and I write my experience in the industry to help people in the industry or help any plant enthusiast or gardener beyond the garden center walls. I’ve definitely became something bigger than myself in the horticultural industry
I had this conversation with my boss one year and he asked me what was one thing I wanted to be better with and I told him “I want to learn our customers’ names”. I have became very proactive when it comes to running a tight ship and making it a memorable experience for my customers. I work at an Independent Garden Center (also known as IGC) and what that means to me is that I get to help customers from A to Z and my customers leave confidence that they can take on their gardening pursuits and they know that they have a source available for them. They know they have someone to teach them and to support them. Customers come to my garden center because we treat our customers as our friends; we welcome them, we joke with them, and we get to share areas of our lives in with them. That’s why learning my customers names have been so important, because they are more than just customers. It has become for me , especially with ordering: “Hey! Lisa would really like this plant because I know she really loves light colored blooms” or “Hey! Susan LOVES her red geraniums; I should order some for her too” or “I know Bob really loves his unique perennials, he’s going to love this perennial for his collection”. You don’t get this feeling at a big box store, but you would get this feeling of unity at your local garden center. Circling back to the Botany Scholar, it allows me to touch on subjects on a deeper level that I can’t get to at work. I can talk about plants, gardening, and the science behind it all day. I get to research and write about topics. I get to connect with brands who I support and they back me up. I get to connect with so many individuals and help them from all over the world with their garden pursuits. I had a long journey to get here but as I learn, grow, and connect - the Botany Scholar evolves with me. What I create with the Botany Scholar, it’s connected with what I do at the garden center - both survive and grow with each other.
What do you think about luck?
This is my favorite story all based out of luck and got me to where I am now as a nursery manager and industry figure: I worked at a garden center in Hopatcong, New Jersey and unfortunately the business went other and I had to scramble to find a new garden center to work at because I did not want to work at a retail store. I ended up traveling throughout New Jersey because I was determined to find a new garden center. On my way back home, I stopped at the once location in Annandale, Nj and I walked in and said, “I need a new garden center to call home”. The store manager gave me an application and I filled it out. I went on my way and I got a call right down the road it was the manager from Annandale and he told me I was overly qualified to work at the store but the Chester location needed someone like me. The manager asked if he could send my application down that way; of course, I said yes. Ten minutes go by; the manager from Chester calls me and asks for me to come in for an interview. I said yes and I drove to Chester, had my interview, and I got the job and I accepted as nursery manager. That Chester manager is now my boss and the best boss I ever had. The Botany Scholar developed one year later. I have developed my nursery floor and the Botany Scholar because my boss believed in me because I have customers who believe in me, I have coworkers and supporters who believe in me, and because I believe in me – all because I spontaneously chose to drive to Mendham Garden Center Annandale to be where I am today at my second home, Mendham Garden Center Chester.
My goodness! It sure has not been easy but I have an amazing company that supports me. Did you know I had no clue on management and what it felt like is that my boss just let me into the lions den? I had to learn how to order, especially what to order. I had to learn how to price and make sure my coworkers knew those prices. I was given different things to order during the whole year, I was not just ordering plants - I was ordering seeds, pottery, and bulbs. I was really responsible for something huge; huge as in making sure I moved well over ten thousand plants out of my nursery floor and making sure everything was well cared for. My customers had to learn to trust me. I think at some point I was terrified of most customers and at some point - very early on, I had to fake it until I made it. Nine, maybe ten years later - as my coworker says that I have everything encyclopedic on my floor. I have that ability to locate any plant and I give myself the challenge to make my garden center, especially my nursery floor to new heights and to make it the best on Route 206 and in New Jersey.
Thank you for joining me on my commentary of my article. I never expected to get to this point of being recognized on this level and to get the opportunity to be bigger than myself in the industry. I would like to thank my customers and my followers, on every platform, to be able to be my driving force and my inspiration. It’s for you, always! I would like to thank the people who I work with who never stopped believing in me and who invested in me. I would love to thank Voyage Baltimore for this extraordinary opportunity. I would like to thank all the brands that I’ve been supporting throughout the years - it’s because of you I have material to learn from, I have the representatives that I interact with to teach me to be better with your product lines. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the the bottom of my heart.
I would also would like to take a moment to dedicate this article to two amazing people who have passed that I’ve had the pleasure with to have in my work circle, Dave and Mike. Dave, your hospitality of how you treat others as if they were apart of your family has been such beauty. Thank you for making me apart of your family from all of the years that I’ve known you. Thank you for creating a company that I have called my home and my family. Mike, my coworker turned uncle figure, thank you for being such a core person in my life. Thank you for showing me kindness when I needed it the most, thank you for giving me the tough love that I needed, thank you for the laughs, and thank you for being apart of my life. I will miss you both dearly and always.
Click the link below to be taken to Voyage Baltimore to read my full article!
I had the complete pleasure of being on an advisory board to support the goal of a young lady, Tori attaining her Girl Scout’s Gold Award. The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouts given out to those who are ranked as Seniors or Ambassadors. This award is community based by creating solutions in neighborhoods and beyond. Tori’s focus started out asking questions on food insecurity and creating solutions to communities to prevent it by teaching how to grow your own and taking on the challenge of “growing your own” in her backyard to make a donation to the local food pantry.
The United Stated Department of Agriculture defined food insecurity “as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life”. This affects more than 30 million people in the United States and can be either a temporary or a long term situation. Globally this affects 349 million people across seventy nine countries. I learned from the head of the local food pantry that food insecurity affects about 31,000 in my township. Food insecurity is becoming a huge issue with the rise of inflation, caused by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are utilizing food panties a lot more because grocery bills are through the roof. These people going to the food pantry could be our own neighbor. I also learned the first thing to always go first at the pantry is fresh produce.
Fresh produce prices are through the roof - organically grown or not. There are many factors that go into the cost of produce such as weather conditions, crop failures, transportation, and paying the farmers. People around the world are switching their lifestyle to be healthier and eat better which means their is high demand for fresh produce and the supply chain cannot keep up - especially if the produce is not in season.
Tori wanted to grow her own to be able to donate fresh produce to the local food pantry. She also wanted to learn how to grow her own to teach others how to grow her own. I can wholeheartedly say, as a product of the National FFA Organization, that Tori lived up to the FFA creed’s second paragraph - “I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life.” Tori took the challenge of starting seeds, transplanting, fertilizing, and monitoring her crops to be able to harvest. This is where I came in on her team, I shared my knowledge with her to help her grow her crops. We talked about seed starting and what products to use, we talked about application products and different types of fertilizers, and most of all we talked about what products would be best when it comes to others buying these products. People want to be able to afford materials to garden. I get to help people pick out the right products for their gardening pursuits. With working at the garden center I interact with individuals who come from different income brackets as well as those who have could have different physical limitations. Gardening is not a cookie cutter practice and Tori was really passionate in making sure that growing your own was affordable and she looked into different ways to garden for those with physical limitations.
I jumped on board with this role mid season where it was the time of the year to start planting vegetables into the ground. I provided advice on fertilizing and maintaining plants to help Tori create her garden. Tori grew tomatoes, sowed and grew beets, peppers, and encouraged pollinators. Tori also did container gardening for leafy greens such as different lettuce varieties. She also started vegetables from seed for fall crops and learned about the correct timing of planting crops throughout the growing season. Tori was able to donate a beautiful bounty in her garden. We were able to talk about different ways to garden that was affordable to all with the raising prices.
After being on her advisory team, I feel it’s really important to encourage people grow their own. I am very fortunate that I can afford fresh produce because I consume a lot of raw vegetables and my son eats a lot of fresh fruits. I live in an apartment which means having my dream garden is an adventure down the road however, being in a community garden can make this become a reality. Being apart of a community garden was another point that Tori looked into for her Gold Award. Being apart of a community garden allows you to grow your own produce for a really good price if you do not have the room in your own. Being apart of the community garden allows individuals to socialize and to learn from each other. In retrospect, it is what our ancestors did from the Old World that allows us to be where we are today when they started farming and building their civilization around the fields.
Tori has inspired me to educate and inspire those around me to grow your own. I’ve been inspired to encourage my current customers to expand their garden and to share Tori’s story of donating some of their harvest. I hear a lot of “I grow too much” or “I have so many vegetables that I don’t know what to do with it”; I want to encourage donating to food pantries this year and the years to come. Tori left an impact on me and I want to share her story to pass it on.