After graduating from UNH, with her degree in Ornamental Horticulture, and a varied, meaningful set of experiences in horticulture over the past seven years, Emma Erler takes on a new role with UNH Cooperative Extension as the Hillsborough County Field Specialist. And what does that mean for NHLA?
Emma explained that her position is designated as being 25% for Hillsborough County, with the other 75% of her time to be dedicated to the rest of NH. So, we’re in luck that we can access her interests, enthusiasm, and expertise in many ways to everyone’s benefit! Emma has already shown her interest in networking and helping share research, best practices, advice and energy, with NHLA by joining our Education Committee. (We are welcoming new members to this committee – contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be on our distribution list for meeting announcements and learn ways you can help.)
Your clients may already know Emma Erler through the Master Gardeners Info Line, where people can submit questions about plant problems, pests they’d like identified, advice about turf care, pollinators, weeds, and so much more! With several years’ worth of time at the Info Line office in Goffstown and this year, by remote, she’s seen and heard so many things from homeowners that she can share these trends with landscapers so they can understand more ways to link and click with clients. Erler said she’s seen homeowners losing a bit of interest in large expanses of lawn, and wanting more information on edibles in garden settings, and more on ecological means to tackle weeds and pests. For landscapers, these trending questions mean there are ways to analyze your business models and maybe consider adding the construction of raised beds and developing soils for raised beds in your skill sets. Raised beds shouldn’t mean taking lawn care out of your revenue stream, but can mean adding maintenance and care for the plants in the raised bed. Keeping up with what clients are seeing on social media is essential. These changes are not to be ignored or disparaged, and should embraced.
Emma Erler has served in several dream jobs that have given her special insights and strengthened her background for the ways she will be helpful to landscapers. Imagine being an intern for twelve weeks, at Longwood Gardens, in Pennsylvania. Her internship there came in a lighthearted way, as she was going to nursery and garden centers in New Hampshire after college, and one of the garden centers she visited hoping to land an interview ended up in a lengthy conversation and the proprietor suggesting Emma may be particularly interested in Longwood – since that’s such a mecca for ornamental horticulture enthusiasts. Never having given an internship like that a thought, she was immediately intrigued. She checked it out online, applied, and within a short time found herself accepted and involved in the program. There, she was able to see firsthand indoor production, work in the historic conservatories, and outdoor production. Between field trials, and regularly scheduled maintenance, her love of the woody ornamentals really took off.
To hear her tell of her time there is fascinating and among the many stories she can share, one was when Longwood Gardens hosted a benefactors’ dinner party during the American Public Garden Conference held in Philadelphia that year. Imagine being in the expansive greenhouses, decked with the meticulously curated orchid collections, lavish floral arrangements, string orchestras, cellists in the various nooks and crannies between tropical plants and then… the meal itself – multi-course – and the conversations with table mates also dedicated to the work of public gardens! When Emma shares these, and other stories, you really start to look forward to visiting public gardens for relaxation and inspiration, when travel is safe and Covid-19 is under control.
Emma Erler’s stories don’t stop with her Longwood experiences. She was involved in a program at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. Hearing about her rigorous program expectations there, when she talks about walking the arboretum with their world class plant curators and students, you can feel the intensity of the program. Participants were individually assigned plants to research and prepare plant talks to present weekly, after in-depth study and research of their assigned plant. You can tell how she developed the skills we see now in her Face Book Live events where she shares tips, talks pests and problems, and encourages best management practices for landscapers and homeowners to implement.
Just about when you think her history with dream jobs couldn’t get any better, she is reminded of her time on staff in Sandwich, MA, at the Heritage Museums and Gardens. While discussing those gardens, she really is animated, since they are woody ornamental havens dispersed over several specific gardens. With the Dexter Rhododendron Garden and the North American Hydrangea Test Garden, Emma cites with excitement, the ways in which those areas of Heritage in interest her. With the Dr. Michael Dirr connection to hydrangeas and hydrangea research, she is fascinated by the hybridizing and sourcing these plants through the suppliers we know and respect such as Bailey Nurseries (creators of the Endless Summer hydrangeas), Star and Roses Plants, and Proven Winners.
Asked about her favorite tree (after learning that her favorite woodies include these plants) she can quickly answer “cercidiphyllum” and goes on to explain the two species of plants as the only members of that genus. This is the Katsura, and is also a favorite of Dr. Michael Dirr, with outstanding four-season interest and similarity to redbud leaves, and a distinctive scent many people can detect, of cotton candy coming from the tree after the first frost. So, for hydrangeas and Katsura, Erler and Dirr are connected. We’re in good company!
Rapid fire questions concluded the interview time with Emma – what’s trending for landscapers to be aware of, in her view; what tech is available that landscapers can use effectively to help crews in the field; what ways can landscapers stay ahead of the trends and cultivate customers?
With Emma’s fluency and confidence, she shares that landscapers should be aware of people wanting edibles in their landscapes – whether small veggies in containers to planting some peach trees or a small orchard. She has heard a lot of questions about those things since the pandemic and people experiencing food shortages or concern about food supplies.
Tech available? She wants landscapers to realize smart phones can offer nearly instant connections between crews and supervisors, so use that connection to trouble-shoot and resolve situations in the field quickly and efficiently. Citing many apps available to help identify plants or pests on a property, she wanted to remind us that sending digital photos to the UNH labs will net quick results, and moreover, the answers will be valid and vetted specifically for our region.
Landscapers staying ahead of the trends and cultivating customers? She suggests getting familiar with what is going on with Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, since that’s where today’s clients are looking for their ideas and inspirations. From seeing what’s going on with those sites, landscapers can “market their responsibility,” which she elaborated on. Marketing surveys show that people are keenly interested in ecology and the environment. You can increase your customer confidence and word-of-mouth referrals by making your customers proud to have hired a landscape company that uses Integrated Pest Management, scouts techniques for pests, and avoids grub control “just in case” grubs appear on that lawn! Erler hopes to share ways to Market your responsibility to the earth, to the property you are hired to care for, and to BMPs and up-to-date research during one-on-one exchanges, workshops, presentations, conferences, and other ways we may have yet to define.
With this introduction to Emma Erler, UNH Coop Extension Field Specialist, we have an opportunity to tap her extensive experiences. We will see how world-class gardens are taken care of, highly regarded research is conducted, and personable exchanges about plant selection, placement, care, and design work can be conducted.
Emma can be reached by e-mail, email@example.com, or through her Hillsborough County Office, 603-836-4934.
Welcome to your new role with the Extension Service, Emma, and here’s wishing you many meaningful connections to NHLA members in the coming years.
by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP