Be a Better Gardener: Matthew Turnbull Joins the Berkshire Botanical Garden Team | Chroniclers
So far Matthew Turnbull, the new director of horticulture at Berkshire Botanical Garden, has come to know the garden for what it is. But he also looked for horticultural valuation opportunities.
Turnbull knows them very well; he grew up in the most horticultural community in the eastern half of the United States, the greater metropolitan area of ââPhiladelphia. A tradition of gardening existed in both his parents’ families, and Matt remembers his mother taking him on his childhood tours to Longwood Gardens, the former Bridge Estate and now the Great Public Garden in Kennett Square, in Pennsylvania.
Matt himself turned to gardening professionally for a few years between graduating from high school and entering college. However, he hadn’t planned on making this his goal when he started on the Ambler campus of Temple University. English and history were his particular interests at first. But Temple University Ambler has always had an exceptional horticulture program; it was founded in 1910 as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women. Turnbull signed up for an introductory course and got hooked. Field trips took him to a trio of unforgettable public gardens in the region – the Chanticleer Garden, the Mount Cuba Center, and the Bartram Garden, the former home of pioneering American botanist and plant collector John Bartram.
The Bartram Garden in particular piqued Matt’s interest as a place where history was made; John Bartram, who traveled extensively to the Southeastern colonies to collect local flora, founded the first true botanical garden in what would become the United States and supplied seeds and plant shoots to major collectors of plants of 18th century Britain. Matt returned to Bartram’s Garden as an intern, and his path took a definite turn.
After graduating from Temple University, he enrolled in the Professional Gardening Program at Longwood Garden and went on to work in a series of outstanding public gardens, as Director of the Natural Heritage Garden at the Caroline Botanic Garden. from South; Assistant Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill, New York’s extraordinary public garden; and as manager of greenhouses and gardens at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
When the position of Director of Horticulture opened at Berkshire Botanical Garden, Matt saw a chance to fully utilize all of his talents in a most exciting opportunity as the institution enters a new chapter. Currently, the Garden is in the process of presenting its board of directors with a new site master plan which, if adopted, will bring new directions and developments to the historic 24-acre campus. Turnbull is delighted to be part of this new chapter in the development of the Garden.
In the meantime, he settles in the community with his family and also settles in his plants. He brought with him a bunch of green North Carolina memorabilia: pitcher plants and other insectivorous species, as well as cacti – which he’s sure will make remarkable additions to the collection of potted plants in the Garden. And then there are also the trees, what he calls the âholy trinityâ of the trees of the Southeast: Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha), Georgia plume (Elliottia racemosa) and Pinckneya (Pinckneya bracteata). All three are beautiful flowering trees, although Georgia Plume and Pinckneya are of questionable hardiness in Berkshires Zone 5b. Turnbull is determined to try them out, but he’s even more excited about all the flora – native and exotic – that he can now grow that he couldn’t do while working down south. And like this adapted flora, Matt says he loves the Berkshire scenery, loves winter and the cold, and is especially eager to enjoy the fall foliage. As one botanist might say, even though Matthew Turnbull is not a native, he seems sure to be naturalized soon.
Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, located in Stockbridge, MA. Its mission, to provide knowledge about gardening and the environment through a diverse range of courses and programs, informs and inspires thousands of students and visitors each year. Thomas Christopher volunteers at the Berkshire Botanical Garden and is the author or co-author of over a dozen books, including Nature into Art and The Gardens of Wave Hill (Timber Press, 2019). Be-a-Better Gardener is syndicated in 19 print and online publications, reaching 250,000 readers. Tom’s companion featured in this column, Growing Greener, airs on WESUFM.org, Pacifica Radio and NPR and is available on his website, https://www.thomaschristophergardens.com/podcast.