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UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 6 | April 4, 2002

Plant Doctor on Call

Judy Newton has the prescription for green thumbs.

By Michelle Cook

A late March snowstorm has blanketed the budding crocuses outside her window in white and sent some Vancouver-area green thumbs into a panic but Judy Newton is quick to provide insight on the unseasonable weather.

"In gardens, snow isn't the enemy. Cold snaps are," says Newton. "And if something dies because it's too cold, that just leaves space for something else to grow."

As the UBC Botanical Garden's education co-ordinator, Newton has been allaying fears and offering instruction to avid gardeners throughout B.C. and beyond since 1989.

It's a dream job for Newton, who wanted to be a forest ranger as a young girl but ended up earning a BSc degree in horticulture as a mature student at UBC instead.

Working closely with fellow education co-ordinator David Tarrant and the Garden's 170 volunteers, Newton's job is to promote the university's extraordinary garden - the oldest and largest of its kind in Canada - to the campus and the community.

This means planning and delivering the Garden's public courses and lecture series, and helping to organize its popular annual plant sales, festivals and other events. She also pens articles for gardening magazines, judges garden contests throughout the city, and leads tours of the UBC Garden for everyone from visiting horticultural scholars to high school students who she "wins over with weird plants."

And then there are the flowers for the university president. Newton and Tarrant take turns creating arrangements for Martha Piper's office every Monday throughout the year. Since these are made entirely of cuttings from the Garden, Newton says she's designed some pretty odd bouquets - especially during the winter months.

A large part of Newton's time is spent travelling around the province to give talks and demonstrations - more than 50 a year - on topics ranging from shade gardening and summer bulbs for beginners to propagation plant science for Master gardeners.

Newton's office is littered with evidence of her public outreach activities: boxes of pest-riddled plant cuttings, healthy potted specimens, vases of all shapes and sizes, and thousands of slides.

"My mission is to expand people's horizons, tell them a story, and show them how much pleasure you can get out of plants," Newton says.

Newton also supervises the Garden's library and its Hortline. Manned by volunteers and students, the Hortline dispenses over-the-phone advice to gardeners with questions about sickly plants, garden pests and pruning techniques.

Newton worked the Hortline when she was a student. Now, much like a doctor, she has to stay on top of all the new garden diseases and their symptoms and relay this information to those fielding incoming calls.

The Hortline is part information and part counselling line, explains Newton. It often involves calming the fears of plant lovers, but also telling them when to let go.

Although she is only three years away from retirement, the grandmother of seven has no intention of letting go of any of her many activities any time soon. In fact, Newton would like to add more children's activities and more academic courses for gardeners to the Garden's education program.

And, for the record, there's not a plant that Newton doesn't like.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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