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At UConn, stop and study roses

Crystal Maldonado

By Crystal Maldonado

On Oct. 4, Jessica Simpson tweeted, “My godboy [sic] is very into horticulture.” If Miss Is-This-Chicken-Or-Tuna-Simpson knows what horticulture is, then shouldn’t the rest of the world know, too?

But that’s not the case at the University of Connecticut.

“Most people who talked with the Horticulture Club at [UConn’s] involvement fair didn’t even know what the word horticulture meant,” said Stephanie Ciparis, a horticulture major and the president of the Horticulture Club.

Julia Kuzovkina, Assistant Professor of Ornamental Horticulture, said, “Horticulture certainly has hit a low point in enrollment.”

Once one of the most popular majors at UConn, today it is one of the least; it’s become a bit of a secret among the 100 majors available at the college.

“It often seems like most people don’t even know we exist,” said Ciparis.

Horticulture major Richard Kramer agreed. “I don’t think many people even realize how much information we need to know and how much we have to learn to become successful in the profession.”

And that’s only part of the problem.

There’s science behind the beauty

Horticulture isn’t just about smelling flowers. The major focuses on the art and science of growing, cultivating, recognizing and marketing plants, according to Kuzovkina. Classes such as Plant Propagation have lab components, where students spend their time in one of the six damp, humid greenhouses located in the Floriculture building. Some classes even cover how to design and create new plants.

“Students learn how to improve the environment with plants,” Kuzovkina explained. “We can use plants to alleviate environmental problems, such as pollution.”

October is show time

Though fewer students are horticulture majors, those who are, like Ciparis, often work with the Horticulture Club as a means of gaining hands-on experience.  The club is responsible for the Horticulture Show, which takes place the first weekend in October at the same time as the school’s annual Cornucopia event. The Horticulture Show is more than 50 years old.

Inside of the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena, flowers, plants and trees line the makeshift garden created for the Horticulture Show. Photo credit: Crystal Maldonado

This year’s event began on Oct. 3 with a steady stream of visitors flooding the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena. Six dedicated horticulture students transformed the building from a dirt-encrusted animal barn to an elegant garden, complete with pumpkins, golden birch trees, a wooden archway and a fake pond.  Guests fluttered from soft pink knockout roses to mulberry mums, gazing in awe or offering to purchase the flowers.

But outside of the show, the story is different.

“Horticulture is underappreciated,” said Ciparis.

Colorful mums, available for purchase, line one of UConn's six greenhouses, all of which are part of the Horticulture program on campus. Photo credit: Crystal Maldonado

And not just by students. UConn doesn’t even ask horticulture majors for their opinions or ideas about plantings around campus, said Kremer.

“If UConn looked at us for ideas and possibilities for creating new gardens and plantings around campus, then, the UConn community would be different without the major,” Kremer said.

Ciparis said the work of horticulture students and the horticulture club is deeply rooted in tradition. “People expect to see [the Horticulture Show] every fall,” she said. “It’s weird balance – the community wants us. But UConn? Not so much.”

Want to explore plants at UConn? Try UConn’s Plant Database.

Interested in majoring in Horticulture? Other schools that offer Horticulture as a major: University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois, Clemson University, Cornell University, Iowa State University, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, University of Arkansas and Virginia Tech.

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