Internship Spotlight: Undergraduate horticulture students pursue hands-on summer experiences
Clemson University Horticulture undergraduate students did not let the end of the school year deter them from continuing to learn and gain experience in the field. Many participated in summer internships which broadened their horizons and provided hands-on opportunities to explore potential careers through experiential learning. Through their involvement in programs across the U.S. and even stretching to Europe, Horticulture students Angel Werth, Paul Millar, and Claire Bunes made important connections between the classroom and the workplace.
Angel Werth: Monet’s Gardens, Giverny, France
Angel Werth is a senior Horticulture and Spanish major who spent the month of June working in the world-renowned gardens of French impressionist painter Claude Monet. Her daily responsibilities were structured around a rotation which included work in propagation, the main flower garden, and most notably, the water garden –– the setting which inspired some of the artist’s most popular water lily paintings. During her time living and learning in the small French village of Giverny, Werth was able to interact with visitors, learn new botanical techniques and discover an interest in aquatic plants.
Werth’s duties varied by day, but commonly included transplanting, deadheading and weeding. She learned a variety of new techniques which opened her eyes to the similarities and differences between horticulture in Europe and the United States –– and potentially hinted towards the future of American gardening technique.
“Europe is ahead of us in terms of sustainability. But we’re moving that way, so a lot of the techniques that they’re using we’re going to be using here in the future, I think. It will be interesting to see how much of it will be applicable, and how soon,” Werth said.
Though the population of Giverny is only 500 people, Monet’s Garden hosts up to 6,000 visitors from all over the world on its busiest days. As part of her program, Werth was exposed to not just the science of the garden’s maintenance, but the history behind it as well.
“Claude Monet was merely an amateur horticulturist, initially creating the gardens as a private retreat to share with only family and close friends,” Werth explained. “However, when he realized that the location and plant life could act as a source of inspiration for his paintings, he consulted prominent horticulturists of the time to bring further life to his garden.”
Despite its distance from South Carolina, Werth was not the first Clemson student to spend a summer in Giverny. Clemson professor Ellen Vincent has been instrumental in connecting Clemson horticulture majors with Monet’s Gardens. Werth was originally inspired to pursue the opportunity after attending a student’s presentation on her own Monet’s Gardens experience to Werth’s Horticulture 101 class a few years prior.
“My supervisor told me that every Clemson student she’s ever seen come through the garden has been willing to work and eager to impress. That’s something they really appreciate there and that we have stood out for consistently,” Werth said.
Paul Millar: Vertical Roots, Charleston, SC
Paul Millar worked for a hydroponics production company called Vertical Roots in his hometown of Charleston. Vertical Roots supplies lettuce to various grocery stores across South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia. During his internship, Millar gained experience in areas including equipment maintenance, horticulture, packaging, research and development
Vertical Roots utilizes a controlled indoor hydroponics environment to minimize crop loss. In doing so, the company’s hydroponics pods are able to cut water usage by 98 percent by recycling the water used in the production process. The ability to recapture the water-nutrient solution used in production also eliminates nutrient runoff pollution, which can decrease environmental problems such as algal blooms that harm fish populations.
Additionally, in a controlled environment, factors such as light and temperature can lead to higher quality, more uniform produce. Millar’s primary role was to oversee the smooth functioning of this complex system.
“Something I learned was just how many things can go wrong on the equipment side of the hydroponic system –– things getting turned off accidentally, things getting closed,” Millar explained. “Malfunctions are much more common, costly problems than the types of biotic problems you would see in a greenhouse, such as pests and plant disease. Staying on top of the equipment maintenance involved in the system was probably the most important aspect of what I did there.”
Additionally, Millar monitored plant health which included checking for nutrient deficiencies, diseases and any problems with the quality of the lettuce. He also worked hands-on with the Vertical Roots farm team by harvesting, cleaning and packaging the lettuce.
A highlight of the program for Millar was conducting a research project on biostimulants that could improve lettuce development and growth. He benefited significantly from his mentors’ expertise along the way, as they guided him in designing the experiment but also gave him autonomy in the conducting of his study.
“It was a really great experience,” Millar said. “Everyone there was really passionate about the company and the work they were doing. I learned a lot about hydroponic production on a commercial scale. They gave me a lot of freedom to pursue things that I was interested in, such as research and development. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in my major, especially people who have any interest in engineering and software.”
Claire Bunes: The Garden at Newfields, Indianapolis, IN
Claire Bunes lived in Indianapolis this summer and worked at the Newfields Garden at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The fellowship program at Newfields offered a unique public garden experience by rotating her through work in formal, woodland, ravine, sensory, vegetable and cutting gardens as well as the park focused on native forest and prairie species.
For Bunes, the experience was a great way to become acclimated with a climate and topography different from what she’s used to seeing in South Carolina. She found that the more alkaline soil in Indianapolis posed new challenges and hosted a variety of plant life that she had not previously had much exposure to.
Bunes learned the ins-and-outs of public gardening under the supervision of Clemson alumni Jaime Frye, who is a plant records specialist at the gardens. Frye took the initiative to assign special projects that enabled Bunes to maximize her internship experience.
“I don’t know if it would have been as geared towards the intern if Jaime wasn’t there. She really dedicated a lot of her time and effort to making the experience super educational and comfortable,” Bunes explained.
She was tasked with creating plant lists on a weekly basis to become more knowledgeable about the specific plant life contained within the garden. She also worked on a research project on medicinal plants found on the Newfields campus and their traditional uses and presented her findings to wrap up her program.
One of Bunes’ favorite aspects of her experience was garden outreach. Newfields has a productive vegetable garden where it grows fresh produce and donates it to a local food bank called Second Helpings. There, the vegetable and fruit donations are prepared into meals. This initiative opened Bunes’ eyes to a potential new direction to take her future career in horticulture. Although she liked the public garden experience, she realized a horticulture job that involves community outreach is what she’s most interested in going forward.
She found her time at Newfields to be much more than just a public garden experience or a job:
“It was a chance to connect with wonderful plant people and explore the natural environment in a part of the country I had never visited before,” she said.