An Oklahoma transplant thriving in the red dirt
Story and Photo by Maureen Heffernan
When your job is to maintain and continually improve a botanical garden located in the middle of downtown Oklahoma City, you better be up for the job, as “your” garden is open for all to see 24/7/365.
Nate Tschaenn, the director of horticulture, is definitely up for the challenge with impressive education, hands-on experience, focus and a work ethic fueled by a life long passion for plants. His talents have helped take Myriad Botanical Gardens (oklahomacitybotanicalgardens.com) plant collections and gardens to new horticultural heights over the last several years.
As a child, Nate remembers the exact moment he was thunderstruck with plants. It was as a third-grader visiting Callaway Gardens in Georgia. Their outdoor vegetable garden and especially an exhibit of carnivorous plants, made a profound impression on him. “These things were really amazing to me,” he said.
As a high school senior, he knew he wanted to work at a public garden, so he enrolled in the landscape horticulture program at Ohio State University. After graduating he headed back to where it all started, Callaway Gardens, where he worked as an intern in their garden and conservatories. That experience led to his being hired by Cleveland Botanical Garden as manager of the Costa Rica Biome of their conservatory. Nate was responsible for curating and taking care of thousands of tropical plants – from palms to orchids and even butterflies.
After four years in Cleveland, Nate left to earn a master’s degree in public horticulture from the prestigious Longwood Gardens program outside of Philadelphia. Many of the country’s leading botanical garden horticulturists and administrators have completed this program.
At Longwood, Nate focused on learning more about botanical garden maintenance and horticultural interpretation. Study trips to Singapore, Indonesia, and many conservatories throughout the United States further ignited his interest in tropical plants.
Upon completing the Longwood program, Nate saw that Myriad Botanical Gardens was seeking a manager for its iconic Crystal Bridge Conservatory that houses thousands of tropical and arid deserts plants. Hired in early 2013, he has worked to make the Crystal Bridge more lush, colorful, and varied in its plant collection. He started a popular spring orchid show and holiday exhibits that are enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.
Promoted to director of horticulture in 2015, Nate has enhanced plant collections’ diversity and beauty. Now with several years of red dirt Oklahoma gardening experience, I asked Nate for his top 10 gardening tips and wisdom to share with Oklahoma gardeners?
1. Oklahoma seems to be one of the hardest places to garden – so it is important to research a plant before you buy and plant it to ensure it can take our challenging cold, heat, drought, wind, ice, etc.
2. Your best garden tools are your eyes. Gardeners must develop careful observation skills and frequently check on plants to see how they are doing.
3. Organic matter is your best friend. Use lots of it to improve heavy clay soils.
4. Some tough perennials I really like: Scabiosa, Coreopsis grandiflora, cherry skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens), Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’, blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium).
5. An underutilized hardy tree is black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
6. For a more natural-looking spring daffodil (Narcissus) display scatter bulbs of different types of daffodils where you want them to grow and let them multiply and fill in over a few years. To prolong your bulb displays, mix early, mid, and late bloomers together in beds.
7. Always mulch. Organic shredded hardwood and shredded cedar are good.
8. Avoid over-planted and/or potentially invasive landscape plants such as burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and barberry (Berberis).
9. Good catalogs for native plants: Mail Order Natives (mailordernatives.com), Prairie Moon Nursery (prairiemoon.com), and Prairie Nursery (prairienursery.com). For tropical plants, try Kartuz Nursery (kartuz.com).
10. Joining a plant society is a great way to learn more and meet others happy to share their knowledge.