Downtime: The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s ‘Plant Parent’


Brian Trader, CEO of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, with some of his personal plant collection that he brought into his office. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

It is not surprising that the manager of a botanical garden is himself a passionate and guardian of plants. But for Brian Trader, it’s not about bringing his work home.

In fact, in recent months, it’s been the other way around.

With the temperatures colder this time of year, the President and CEO of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has brought more of his personal collection of plants with him to work, keeping them at room temperature in his second-floor office. floor on the 19th of the garden. -century Bloemendaal House.

“About half of the plants there now would have been outside during the summer,” Trader said. “There are plants that stay there all year round, just because I like having greenery in there. And then some of them are plants that I had staged in our house, and my husband Tyler said, ‘It’s awkward. He needs to be relocated.

Of his penchant for what he calls “vegetable parenting,” Trader added, “I would say it’s become borderline obsessive. My husband would say that is a problem.

Between the office and his basement and porch at home, Trader, 43, nurtures and cares for many plants of various varieties. Many were picked up at sales at other gardens he visited during his career, moving him from his roots of working with plants to more office-oriented administrative roles.

“As I became much more empowered in the workplace with plants, perhaps it became a therapeutic outlet for me. It brings joy,” Trader said. “It’s restorative.”

Sowing seeds

Growing up and working on his family’s farm on the East Coast, Chesapeake Bay side of Accomack County, it was Trader’s exposure to plants and gardening in his youth that planted the seeds. of her career. The work took him from Virginia Tech, where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, to leadership positions at botanical gardens in Delaware.

Now a year into his tenure at Lewis Ginter, Trader enjoyed a homecoming of sorts when the backyard gig brought him back to Virginia. The garden appointed him to the post at the end of 2020 after a nearly year-long search. He started working in early 2021.

The choice of vocational orientation presented itself to him very early on, when his father, a poultry farmer who also did crops, rented part of their property to another farmer who worked mainly in poultry houses. For Trader, the choice was clear: work with plants, or in a smelly, foul-smelling chicken factory.

Brian Trader in front of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Conservatory.

“I didn’t want to do that, so I got a job at one of the local garden centres. That’s really what piqued my interest,” he said. “I was bringing plants home after work, or things that were about to die that we put in the compost, I was going to dig stuff in the compost just to see if I could save it or rehabilitate it, kind of similar plant rescues.

“I was very lucky: the school I went to had a botany class and I became very close to the teacher there,” he said. “She really instilled that interest and that passion and taught me that it could be a career.”

Let it grow

After teaching at Tech and Mississippi State University, Trader led a graduate program at the University of Delaware which, in turn, led to a 10-year stint with Delaware’s Longwood Gardens, as director of national and international studies. He also spent two years as assistant executive director at the Delaware Botanic Gardens before taking the gig from Lewis Ginter.

With his first year in the garden under his belt, Trader has made it his home while creating a seasonal home for his plants, his office providing extra space he doesn’t have at home.

“I don’t have a greenhouse. I literally have a veranda, and that veranda has a temperature,” he said. “I have all these different types of plants that require all kinds of growing conditions, and somehow I try to take care of them in such a way that they can at least thrive. or cope with the situation they find themselves in.”

Ranging from small succulents to large citrus plants, his collection includes a 20-year-old Eulophia (petersii) desert orchid he obtained from the Missouri Botanical Garden during a conference in St. Louis. Others are even older.

“Some of them are plants I’ve had since I was in that high school botany class. I’ve had some of these plants since 1994,” he said. “Pretty much every one of them has a little story, and some of them are really rare or unusual.

His larger citrus plants are placed in the basement with LED lighting during the colder months, which Trader says is thankfully less than what he was used to in Delaware.

“It’s so mild in Richmond that we can get them in in early November and then get them out hopefully in March. So it’s just a short, abbreviated period that they’re in the spotlight,” he said.

Laughing, he added, “I know our neighbors probably think we’re growing marijuana – which is legal now, so that’s okay – but we’re not.”

Brian Trader’s veranda in his Northside home houses most of his collection. (Courtesy of Brian Trader)

weed science

Speaking of which, a fun fact about Trader: his college education at Virginia Tech was in horticulture and a perhaps lesser-known concentration – weed science.

No, not “that” weed, as Trader pointed out.

Acknowledging the word’s different meaning as a slang name for cannabis, Trader explained, “I really don’t mention it anymore because it raises so many eyebrows and raises so many questions. But that was literally how growers can manage weeds in their cropping systems.

At Lewis Ginter, Trader familiarized himself with the garden and found a few favorite spots.

“I like begonias, I like succulents, I like tropical plants,” he said. “Our conservatory horticulturist, Ryan (Olsen), loves begonias probably as much as I do, so I love going there and seeing the collection he’s amassed for our garden for our community to enjoy. I also love the conservatory area where the cacti, succulents and agaves are. It gives me great joy every time I enter it.

“I do not discriminate. I love all plants. I also like native plants. I really think native plants are underrated, even though they’ve become a bit of a buzzword.

Speaking of buzzwords, Trader noted that his vegetable hobby has its own buzzword.

“The buzzword is ‘vegetable parenting,'” he said. “That’s a real thing, when you think about the cost of living and young couples starting up who can’t afford rent, let alone a puppy or a dog.”

Trader said he encourages anyone to get into plant-based parenting, especially in light of the pandemic changing people’s appreciation for the outdoors and nature.

“I strongly believe that everyone should learn something new every day or keep growing and evolving,” he said. “There is so much research that has proven, and I think we know more now than ever because of the pandemic, that plants do heal. They are powerful.

This is the latest installment in our Downtime series, which focuses on what business people do outside of the office. If you, a co-worker, or someone you know in town has a unique way to pass the time, submit your suggestions to [email protected] For previous installments of Downtime, click here.


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