There were signs early on that Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture graduate, Julie Weisenhorn, was fated to work with plants. As a child, her family had a big yard in Rochester, and she and her husband Karl bought their first house together in 1989 from Cary George, former curator of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.
“He (George) walked me around the yard naming all the plants, and I felt a sense of responsibility to learn how to take care of the garden,” she recalls.
But Weisenhorn didn’t grow up thinking she would even work outdoors. “I was not enthralled with gardening growing up,” she admits. “I liked to read, write, and draw... I did love the plants that bloomed in our yard, but I was looking toward a career in advertising and communications.”
So the path to becoming one of the University’s foremost authorities in horticulture was not a straight line. Weisenhorn earned a BA in Communications and Spanish and an MA in Visual Communication, preparing herself to join the advertising industry.
A Fork in the Road
Weisenhorn went on to work for several traditional photographic film and paper processing companies as a business manager, keeping her growing interest in horticulture alive in her spare time by becoming an Extension Master Gardener.
“By 1999,” she says, “I wanted to do something that made a difference in people’s lives and not just line shareholders’ pockets. I was also done with the industry, having worked for four companies in 12 years.”
That spring, while flying over the California coast after a business trip, she had an epiphany. “Looking down at the redwood forest, I experienced one of those moments of clarity, and my direction was set."
Coming Full Circle
Weisenhorn began the MPS in Horticulture program (then called the MAg. program) that fall as a full-time student.
“Then my schooling coincided with my in-laws moving to Minnesota from Florida due to health reasons. The flexibility I had with classes helped us manage their needs and allowed me to be there to help them. I am also blessed to have an awesome husband who supported my career change. Amazing how things work out.”
“From the first day of my Woody Ornamentals class, I knew I’d found my place. I love the science of horticulture, teaching people, and helping them be thoughtful gardeners. This is truly the best job I have ever had.”
Her then adviser and current Director of Graduate Studies, Mary Meyer, helped her to find a final project that she enjoyed and one that could help her find a job.
“I have always appreciated Mary’s down-to-earth blending of academia and work-life and have tried to model that approach when working with students, Master Gardeners, and the public.” Meyer is Weisenhorn’s current supervisor as program leader for the extension consumer horticulture team.
Weisenhorn was offered a position as a landscape design teaching specialist in the Horticulture department upon graduation and went into extension teaching in 2007, when she became state director for the Extension Master Gardener program.
“When I wanted to work full-time as an extension educator in horticulture in 2014, I received a great deal of valuable support from faculty and administration,” Weisenhorn continues. “They helped me reach my career goal, and I’ll always be grateful for their support.”
She is also a regular on the WCCO Smart Garden radio show hosted by Denny Long (Saturdays at 8 a.m.), where she answers callers’ questions and texts from listeners. “Smart Garden is one of the best ways to connect people to Extension and our resources and one of my favorite parts about my job.”
Favorite Things About Her Work
- Helping people find answers
- Plant Elements of Design plant selection tool
- WCCO Smart Garden radio show
- Teaching about creating healthy landscapes
- Her colleagues
Tip for Future Students
“Don’t be afraid. I started my MPS degree at 38. Next to marrying my husband, it was the best decision I ever made.”