golf course

I was asked this question 10 years ago by a woman in the human resources department as I was filling out new hire paperwork for my new job.  At first I was taken aback.  But, the evidence was irrefutable….I was wearing pink nail polish and I was a horticulturist.  

horticulturist job

Bougainvillea, Gold Lantana and Purple Lilac Vine adorn a feature area along the golf course.

And so that was my introduction to what turned out to be many years at a very fulfilling job working as a horticulturist for two golf courses, and for the surrounding community areas.

horticulturist job

The golf courses were bordered by a national forest, (yes that is a national forest in the background), and an Indian reservation, so much of the surrounding area was untouched and just beautiful.

horticulturist job

I set to work right way, designing and planting new landscapes  everywhere I could find bare, boring areas…and there were quite a few.

My job was not without it’s challenges…..I was the only woman in a department of 38 men, besides the secretary, which was not always easy.  I had to earn their respect before they would do what I asked.  Also, sometimes I would have to act braver then I was when the guys would show me snakes they found as well as huge grubs they dug up.  I would pretend it was no big deal to me, even though I cringed inside.

horticulturist job

I managed all of the landscape areas, but thankfully, not the turf areas on the golf course.  I had a crew of 4 men, which included my foreman, who had followed me from my previous job.  

Although my favorite part of my job was designing and installing new landscape areas, I also was in charge of the maintenance of 100’s of trees and plants as well.

horticulturist job

I did have unfortunate mishaps such as losing a large saguaro in a torrential summer storm and the Palo Verde tree below.

I used to dread going to work the days after a summer storm.  I would spend hours deciding what fallen trees could be saved and those that could not.  It was always very sad to see some beautiful trees lost.

horticulturist job

Riding in my little golf cart around the golf courses and community was always so much fun.  I typically spent 1/2 my days in the office and 1/2 outdoors.  The weather was usually very nice to be out in.   In the winter, the golf courses would be covered in a layer of thick frost at times and golfers would anxiously wait until it melted so they could start golfing.

For the most part, summers were nice too, although an occasional day over 114 would hit.  Those were hard, because the crew would have to continue working outside, so I would have the crew work on pruning trees so that they could stay in the shade – I always felt guilty that I had an air-conditioned office to retreat to.

golf course

Some landscape areas did not have an irrigation system, so were planted with succulents and hand-watered twice in the summer.  Washes lined with river rock ran through many of the areas, like the one above, which would rapidly fill with water after a summer storm.

golf course

After placing the plants that were to be planted, I would often join my crew in digging holes and planting.  Did I already mention that this was my favorite part of the job?

golf course

New Planting of Valentine and Rosemary

I was given the opportunity to present landscaping seminars for the local residents and was absolutely terrified my first time, but soon learned to love speaking to groups. **People who meet me find out very quickly that it is hard to shut me up when I talk about plants ;^)

golf course

I left this wonderful place to work for a landscape design firm, where I could focus on what I enjoyed best – designing and installing landscapes.  My community was running out of areas for me to create new ones.  Sadly, the area above was one I did not get to before I left.

golf course

I realize that I have shown this picture in previous posts, but it was my favorite landscape that I worked on.  It is a hummingbird garden.

As I looked back on the places I worked as a horticulturist, this was my most favorite job.  I loved the people, the landscapes, the beautiful desert setting and I miss the beautiful, large trees that I would drive by each day on the golf course.

Okay, so back to the HR lady’s nail polish comment….I told her that I did wear nail polish, but that I also wore gloves when working with plants, so it wasn’t a problem.  I also wore make-up and curled my hair, which I guess was not what her picture of a horticulturist was ;^)

‘Boss’ For a Day…

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
30 replies
  1. gardeningAngel
    gardeningAngel says:

    Hi Noelle, what a beautiful post! Your horticulturist job sounds like it was very fulfilling, and kudos to you for wearing your nail polish. I only use clear, but that is so the my nails don't break off as easily. Your landscaping designs are gorgeous, and so welcome to look at this time of year. Thanks for sharing your story with us! Kathy

  2. Liza
    Liza says:

    Hahaha! I wear nail polish to cover up the dirt! It's just plain smart.

    Your photos are gorgeous, as always. Sad about the downed trees and cacti. I'll bet that Saguaro weighed like a million pounds – it looks huge!

  3. Christine B.
    Christine B. says:

    Nail polish to cover the dirt…how is it I have never figured this one out? I've just been resigned to the fact that occasionally in summer my nails will look unkempt. In fact, it has happened that I've been out socially and discovered (to my chagrin!) that there is a layer of dirt under the nails that didn't come out when I washed my hands. Very posh looking….

    Working in that kind of heat, I can't even begin to imagine. I complain when it hits 75 (about twice a summer).

    Christine in Alaska

  4. Martha Z
    Martha Z says:

    I probably should wear nail polish as my nails break after a day working in the garden. I rarely wear gloves.
    Your landscapes are beautiful, an illustration of how lovely a low water desert garden can be.

  5. Darla
    Darla says:

    Re: comment on my blog–Butterflies, you will not regret the butterfly kit at all. I actually have photos of the monarch emerging from it's chrysalis, you have to pay attention it all happens in less than an hours. Hope to video it this summer…..do you have or can you grow milkweed? I may have some seeds left if you need them.

  6. leavesnbloom
    leavesnbloom says:

    This post Noelle made me laugh – for years I wouldn't wear nailpolish as I can't bear wearing the gloves – but recently I've started again and the nail polish sits on the kitchen window sill and every morning the nails get a touch up before I get into that horticulturalist mode for the rest of the day. That last photo of the hummingbird garden is just delightful.

  7. Darla
    Darla says:

    Since you don't know me that well, let me fill you in a little, lol… I love to share my seeds and plants..I would be honored for you to grow something in your garden from mine..email at rusdarathotmaildotcom just put seeds in the subject line ..I don't open emails I am not familiar with…this is so much fun!

  8. Shady Gardener
    Shady Gardener says:

    Hi Noelle, Your photos are so beautiful – not enough to make me want to move there (as friends of mine did), but enough to visit again! 🙂

    Nail polish? Oh, so rarely! Make up? A lot less these days – trying to remember the sunscreen every day. Curling the hair? Only on a "second or maybe even third day." (or a special occasion). How about your toenails? Me? Hardly ever. ha!

  9. villager
    villager says:

    Great story Noelle, and great photos to go with it. You gave me a good chuckle too! Your experience with HR just proves you can't judge a book by it's cover.

  10. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    I wonder if you were wearing nail polish when you put your hand inside the place that had the tarantula in it? 🙂
    I enjoyed reading about your work at the golf course, it does sound like it was a lot fun and very rewarding to see your plans come to life.

  11. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    Well, Noelle, I have maybe put on nail polish a handful of times in the past 20 years. But I'm more of a plain-dirt gardener than a horticulturalist. I can't feel the weed roots with gloves on. And there's no way makeup is staying on a face in this heat and humidity. Anyway, if I don't care about the holey T-shirt and spandex exercise pants, I surely don't care about my face and hair!

    BTW…loved the golf course pictures. You did great work! Just last week, my husband stayed at a resort/golf course that he said was in the middle of a desert in Arizona. Said it was awesome. I wanted to go so badly!

  12. Ami
    Ami says:

    Wow, I adore your work! Great work you have done on golf course! The scene on the desert still can look pretty and colorful! I don't usually wear nailpolish. Even I wear gloves, the dirt still finds the way to go in 🙂

  13. Rosey Pollen
    Rosey Pollen says:

    Awesome job! I think you fared well for having to work in such conditions.

    I'm a huge of dark nail polish…it covers a multitude of dirt stains and weed stains. I have gloves, but I forget to put them on. Isn't that gross?

  14. Gail
    Gail says:

    What a wonderful job and I can see that you helped take this golf course to a beautiful level. Thank you for sharing~it's always good/fun to learn more about bloggers we visit. gail ps my nails look awful…I do try to keep a pedicure.

  15. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    What a nice post reminiscing of what must have been a fulfilling job.
    That is so funny re the nail polish comment. I often get a similar sort of reaction in my work, as I don't really look like what people expect a Policy consultant to be, especially one sent by an agency in Europe or the US.
    They usually confess they thought the consultant was going to be an old white man! Twice in airports the person sent to meet me thought I made a mistake when I approached them (even though my name was clearly written on their sign-I mean I should know that's my name!) A few times immigration in the US even wanted to see my documents proving my story of why I am traveling.
    I have to confess I stopped wearing nail polish on my fingernails since I started gardening and a job with travel, as my fingernails break about once a week. I do however love to try wild colors on my toes. My favorite now is Rimmel 60 seconds, I found that you can pick it up cheaply in the US drugstores and it applies well and lasts as long as the expensive brands.

  16. Janet
    Janet says:

    I really enjoy seeing your landscapes, truly beautiful. That huge cactus that fell over from the rainstorm looks like a fallen dinosaur.
    Fingernail polish???…..fingernails??? Not me, cut 'em short. Curl your hair? You know I shouldn't admit this, but there are some days I am outside walking the dogs after my morning shower and I realize I haven't combed my hair after towel drying it. oops.
    Make-up? maybe on date night.

  17. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Noelle, I think it's great that you dig in the dirt and wear nail polish!! I admit that my fingernails rarely see polish as it seems to chip faster than I can mend it! However, my toenails are constantly colored! Florida is home to the opentoe shoe (as is Arizona!)! Your photos and work are wonderful! Nicely done!!!!

  18. Carol
    Carol says:

    It is lovely to see all the places you helped to transform Noelle… you left your mark on this community. It must have been heartbreaking to see these large cactus and wispy trees fallen after storms. I love you last garden too! You can show it as many times as you like. ;>) Carol

  19. Rose
    Rose says:

    How fun it must be to have such a huge area to design and plant–and a bit intimidating at the same time. Your plantings are beautiful! I remember marveling at some of the lovely landscaped areas I've seen in the Scottsdale area; now I will remember that someone like you put so much time and effort into creating them. How sad, though, to see the aftermath of summer storms. That must have been a very old saguaro.

  20. Teresa O
    Teresa O says:

    Great start to your post, Noelle! Not only do I wear nail polish, I also wear pearls while gardening! J/K What a wonderful job you had. Seeing that large saguaro cactus lying broken must have tugged at your heartstrings, it sure did mine and I was only looking at the photo.

    Have a grand day!

  21. Miranda Bell
    Miranda Bell says:

    Hi Noelle – a heartening tale and it's always good to break the mould – the glamourous horticulturalist!! Why should we always have to look anything but girly when working outdoors… I don't wear pink nail varnish but it's not unknown for a touch of makeup (not always or my mascara runs!! 🙂 ) Have a good weekend Miranda x

  22. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, What a fascinating account of the time you spent working at the golf course, and what responsibilities the job carried.

    Your pictures show a wonderful, landscaped environment; I feel that you were very fortunate to work in such a place although outside in the cold, and dealing with the aftermath of storms, must have been less pleasant.

    Have a happy weekend.

  23. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I am a bit late again here Noelle, your landscapes in the dessert are really stunning. I actually envy your job. I am also a horticulturist but worked inside the laboratory for some years doing basic research in plant physiology. My hobby is gardening for the senses, where my being a horticulturist is further fullfilled. I have a landscape architect friend who does the job as you and is enjoying a lot too. Congratulations for a wonderful life and also being able to share them with people. We will be always excited to see photos of your next projects.

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