Viewpoints (Dennis): Teaching Horticulture
By Dennis Hersch
The Horticultural Society of New York. When you hear that name you imagine a group of aging society types, sipping tea and discussing their favorite hybrid tea rose. Indeed, this is what the organization was like for its first hundred years. Founded in 1900, The Hort, as it is known, was patronized by wealthy New York families and their gardeners. For many years, it housed a huge horticultural library and plant shop in a cavernous location on West 58th Street. Its claim to fame in the latter part of the twentieth century was its sponsorship of the New York Flower Show, in its heyday as big as the famous Chelsea and Philadelphia shows.
Terrible weather during a late 1990’s show, and declining interest in flower shows generally, forced the organization to re-evaluate its purpose. Led by a dedicated board and an energetic executive director, The Hort redefined its mission to focus on improving the lives of New Yorkers through horticulture. Several innovative initiatives were undertaken.
The Apple Seed children’s education program exposes children in underserved public schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to gardening and the natural world, integrating science with reading, mathematics, cultural history and artistic expression.
The Greenhouse program, based on Rikers Island, is dedicated to reducing recidivism by providing incarcerated men and women with gardening education, knowledge, training and skills. Newly released graduates of Greenhouse may join the GreenTeam, where they can use their new skills in a variety of paying jobs. Beginning in 2017, in partnership with New York State, The Hort will manage the Greenhouse program at Riverbank State Park on Manhattan’s west side, and will present a variety of educational programs there as well.
For the past 26 years, I have been a director of the Hort, and I served as Chairman for four years. Working with The Hort has been a most rewarding experience, repeatedly reminding me that doing good is more important than doing well. Get out and get involved, regardless of where you are in your career, and help make good things happen.
Dennis is a financial advisor. Before that, he was a senior merger and acquisition player, in the financial industry and at a premier law firm. He is also a great cook.