Take 10: Q & A With Tim Wood

– Posted in: Garden Design

tim_wood_img_4142Note from Fran: We’re delighted to have Tim participate in Take 10: Q & A. Tim is the product development manager at Spring Meadow Nursery where his main job is to find and develop new and better flowering shrubs for the North American market. Tim also travels the world to find new plants and work with plant breeders to develop their plants. You can find his blog at The Plant Hunter.

1. What is the one thing that we’d be surprised to learn about you?
Elijah Wood (Frodo the Hobbit) is my cousin.

2. If you weren’t in the world of gardening, what would you be doing?
I would have loved to study literature and be a writer.

3. If you could be a plant in another lifetime, what would it be?
I’d be an American beech tree. They’re beautiful, grand, produce food and shade for the critters, and they’re immortal. Even if the main tree dies, it produces hundreds of root suckers that turn into new trees.

4. If you could create the perfect plant, what would it be?
A spring blooming, pink flowered Clethra. Clethra is such a great plant but because it flowers in late summer few people know it or grow it.

5. Did you know in your teenage years that gardening was going to be your adult work?
I grew up on a nursery and made $0.25 a row hoeing. I hated the hard work, being constantly dirty and being sore, but I loved the plants. I did not intend to work in a nursery, but here I am and I love it. I would have never known that a person could have a job like mine. They never mentioned “Plant Hunter” on career day in highschool.

6. What is your favorite place in the world for finding inspiration or how do you go about finding inspiration in your work?
My favorite place to be is walking the seedling beds where we grow out the plants that resulted from the crosses we’ve made. Each plant is different and before they mature they all have potential. You can grow out 2,500 seedlings and if you find one plant that might end up in someone’s yard or garden. It’s a thrill.

7. What’s the greatest plant expedition you’ve been on?
My travels in South Korea are the most memorable. I documented the trip in an article (you can read it here) and I still get a kick out reading it and recalling all the unusual things we did there.

8. What’s your take on the debate over native plants?
I love native plants and I think that native plants are the right choice for natural landscapes. But I love all plants and I think when we narrow our view based on where the plants are indigenous to at a specific date in history it’s silly and arbitrary. During the Ice Age, there were no native plants in Michigan. We should choose the best plants for the job, particularly in urban settings. It drives me crazy when I read that “Native plants have fewer insect and disease problems, that they are more drought tolerant, or require less care.” Anyone that knows anything about plants knows this is hoowie. 

9. Do you think that gardening has become too politically correct?
I think gardeners are under attack. Even public gardens have turned their back on gardening because there’s more grant money and cachet in conservation. And now in this time of Sustainability and Green, the clear need, the necessary message, and the great opportunity being neglected is that plants and gardens need to be at the core of the Green movement. But why plant tree seedlings in a distant forest as carbon offsets when we need to be planting trees, shrubs, perennials in our cities and yards; close to the sources of carbon and pollution, and where people can actually be healed by the power of plants?

I would encourage everyone to champion gardening as a green lifestyle. What a unique time and place we are in to promote the healing power of plants by planting our own yards and neighborhoods! Change happens locally.

10. When you’ve died, what do you want to be remembered for in the world of gardening?
I would love to leave a legacy of having developed and introduced a body of great plants that for years to come bring people joy.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
9 comments… add one

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Genevieve May 13, 2009, 10:18 am

Awesome interview. I particularly love Tim’s take on Natives. There are a lot of good reasons to grow natives, but people think that they won’t have to care for them just because they are native, or that natives will be healthy in their crappy subsoil just because they naturally grow in the area (in totally different circumstances, usually!).

I love our native plants, but if I can feed the birds and bugs with other plants, and feed our souls with other plants as well, I’m not going to cut them out of the picture even as I respect our local natives and use them often.

Dear Genevieve,
Thanks for your response. Any discussions about natives tends to be a controversial one. That’s what makes it so compelling. Tim’s view is certainly one that is based on knowledge and experience. Fran

Patricia Lanza May 16, 2009, 4:34 pm

Great interview! Tim is so right when he talks about the green movement and conservation. There is not enough emphisis on what homeowners and downtown can do to keep as much space as we can planted and growing. He is also right about everything to do with mis-information about natives. They have a place but are far from carefree. I live in Tennessee and use a bit of everything, including natives, to keep my gardens in color all season. Some of my best flowering shrubs come from Spring Meadow Nursery and some have been developed and named by Tim Wood.

Dear Patricia-
Thanks for your response to the Q and A with Tim. The debate over native plants tends to be a hot issue as evidenced in the piece I wrote about it some time ago on GGW. Fran

eliz May 17, 2009, 2:46 am

Very nice. I so agree with the thoughts on urban gardening.

Thanks for chiming in. Yes, Tim has alot of expertise and am glad he shared his opinions with all of us. Fran

David Wood May 17, 2009, 7:40 pm

I glad the hard work hoeing sent you to college, actually I didn’t remember that part of your youth. I do remember your football games, the old cars I bought you, and you and your friends swinging off a box elder tree that was on a bank high over our spring feed, 30 ft deep pond filled with bass. Your Dad

Tim Wood May 18, 2009, 8:51 am

I also remember balling and burlaping 4″ caliper maples trees, hauling around rail road ties, moving irrigation pipe, spraying, etc. etc.

But I also remember walking in the woods with my Dad as he pointed out the beauty of each plant, how they were used by native peoples, and the importance of paying attention to nature. Telling me that most people would walk this same trial and notice very little. But you pay close attention, you can see world in a whole new way – a myriad of miracles. I can only hope that I’ve given the same gift to my children.

John Black May 21, 2009, 10:44 pm

Tim (and David) (with apologies to Fran) – that last comment spoke more than the entire interview. The gardens we create give us fairly immediate gratification; but they also inspire the people around us and after us for generations. Tim, I can assure you you’ve not only given that gift to your children, you’ve given it to me and mine as well. Thank you.

Steve Wood May 22, 2009, 12:21 am

Great interview, and my cousin Tim and uncle Dave have inspired the rest of our Wood clan for a long time–and we are a bunch of plant nuts. Granddad Wood was a parks superintendent in the old hometown of Cedar Rapids, IA, and in the 1920’s he and his crew build Ellis Park from scratch, golf course and all. Honoring his English background, he created a Shakespeare garden there that included every plant mentioned in the Bard’s works–and people are still enjoying it, more than 80 years later.

Every time I visited the park, as a child or adult, I saw and learned something new about the plant kingdom. And now Uncle Dave is writing children’s books about cute animals and famous gardens–and kids learn about plants and nature without realizing it! Sneaky clever, and inspiring at the same time–see where Tim and the rest of us get it?

Cousin Steve-
How lucky all of you are that nature and the beauty and importance of the landscape was passed down through the generations. Yes, I do see where Tim gets some of his innate talent. Thanks for sharing…and the name of Uncle Dave’s books are??? Fran

Steve Wood May 25, 2009, 12:06 am

Uncle Dave’s latest is, “Cattleya and Catopsis, The Lost Kitten” out in paperback. Just learning the title (kitten’s names in the story) teaches readers an orchid and a bromeliad name–by happy coincidence, my two favorite plant families. It is set in the Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, which I now really want to visit!

A book that predated the famous gardens series (more in development!) is “The Little House on Buchanan Street,” a delightful grandfather’s tale about Christmas–a paperback that is also a coloring book. Both books have wonderful illustrations.

FYI–a problem finding Dave’s books on Amazon or elsewhere is that it turns out to be a somewhat common name for authors, even of children’s books!

lisa January 24, 2010, 2:48 am

Lovely, lovely. All of this.

The “sacred beech groves” are still a strong force revered in the popular culture of modern day Italians; Tim’s description recognizes the beech for yet other dimensions.

I am going to give Clethra a second look too!

Thank you, Fran, for such a nice piece.

I want to read the book series too.

am glad you enjoyed the q and a. fran

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