Garden News Blog

Dishing Dirt on BBG’s Horticulture Internship

Weeks after Hurricane Irene, we were still carrying out damaged tree limbs from the Native Flora Garden. I must be about half the size of curator Uli Lorimer, who was directing our work there, and the logs were twice the size I’d have liked. I carried them up the sloped wood-chip path as my muscles ached and sweat beaded on my brow.

I’d wanted to become a BBG horticulture intern ever since I first heard about the position from my former boss, the manager of a farm where I worked. He had started his own career as a BBG intern, so I knew that interning here for eight months would be a good hands-on way to learn the basics of professional gardening.

Yeah, the job description mentioned some “physical labor,” but that was fine with me since I like to work hard. Still, I guess I pictured myself doing a lot of my learning by simply being in the Garden, observing nature. I definitely don’t remember any mention of “hauling logs.” Or mosquito attacks. I must have been bitten three times in the three minutes it took Uli to demonstrate how to tie a throwing knot, needed to safely secure and prune a tree limb.

Still, I’ve learned a lot while I’ve labored. After all, Uli didn’t just order me to start removing limbs at random. He explained how doing so would allow more sunlight into the center of the Native Flora Garden, where a patch of wildflowers was struggling to grow. He showed me proper pruning techniques so we wouldn’t compromise the tree’s health. When he took a turn with the saw, he taught me the basics of tree anatomy as he cut inch by inch into a limb of an Acer saccharum (or as I used to call it, a sugar maple—did I mention I’ve learned a lot of Latin here too?). He pointed out when we had made our way through the branch’s bark and cambium layer and into the inner heartwood.

Later, as I weeded in the Plant Family Collection, I began to recognize the emerging cotyledons of the seedlings there. Not only was I able to ID all the various trees and shrubs I was weeding under, but I also learned the scientific and common name of each of the dozen or so weeds I was pulling. My BBG botany lessons were really paying off.

As my internship nears its end, I can honestly say that all the aching, itching, and sweating has been worth it. The opportunity to work closely with anyone as knowledgeable as a BBG gardener is invaluable, and even when I’m left to do something mundane like rake leaves, I find a special peace that comes from being alone with the trees in the middle of Brooklyn. I don’t think I could stand New York City without moments like these.

Interested in working hard and pursuing a gardening career? BBG is now accepting applications for 2012 horticulture internships through December 31. Duties include such physical tasks as weeding, pruning, and raking, but the program offers the opportunity to gain a foundation in professional gardening techniques and horticulture while working directly with BBG’s internationally respected experts. More information is available on our site at

James Rowell

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True, BBG horticulture internships are physically demanding, but the job isn’t without perks. Native Flora Garden curator Uli Lorimer gives intern James Rowell a lift to his worksite for the day. Photo by Karen Li.