Michelle Lapp had a rather fortuitous meeting not so very long ago that helped lead her down a career path she was always interested in taking.
“I’ve always had a passion for public and private gardens. Whenever I walk through one, I always feel good — I couldn't have imagined that I would be given the opportunity to contribute to Temple Ambler's Arboretum,” said Lapp, who was a senior graphic designer at the Saint-Gobain Corporation for 13 years before the corporation let their in-house graphics team go. “While I was still at Saint-Gobain, I had the opportunity to take a series of classes at the Barnes Museum Arboretum over a period of three years. One of my professors happened to be (Ambler Arboretum of Temple University Director) Kathy Salisbury. Everyone loved her; it was a wonderful experience.”
Fast forward to 2018 “and I was taking a non-credit course at Temple Ambler in residential design,” Lapp said.
“I stopped by the campus on one Saturday in May to take advantage of the campus’ annual plant sale when who do I run into but Kathy, who had since become director of the Ambler Arboretum,” she said. “Kathy mentioned that the Arboretum had need of a gardener. Fortunately, that position has become more permanent. I am so happy when I am here; it is so therapeutic.”
As the Ambler Arboretum’s new Horticulture Technician, Lapp performs a wide range of general garden maintenance and works with interns, volunteers and student workers on projects and gardening activities focusing on the gardens of Ambler Arboretum. This position requires significant knowledge of horticulture and plant selection for Southeast Pennsylvania as well as experience with tropical plants and seasonal displays including container gardening.
“I love working with the Arboretum volunteers each Tuesday. They’ve become an exceptionally dedicated group — one of our volunteers assisted with set-up for our Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit this year,” she said. “It was also my first time being involved in set-up for the Flower Show, but I definitely know the anxiety of preparing plants for the show. We have a home greenhouse and my husband Jeff enters plants into the Flower Show every year.”
As Horticulture Technician, Lapp said her goal is to “use my background to work with Kathy and Anne (Brennan) on garden design in addition to the upkeep of the gardens,” she said.
“There is always something to do in the gardens. It seems to change every week! I know I have a lot to learn; it’s a challenge, but I love it,” she said. “I think one of the things that makes the Ambler Arboretum so special is that it is essentially used as a classroom by students every day. No matter where you go on campus, you will discover something — the campus and the arboretum have a feel all their own.”
Lapp happens to be one of the students taking advantage of the educational experiences Temple Ambler’s 187 acres has to offer. She is completing a certificate in Native Perennial Garden Design and is currently enrolled in Herbaceous Plants II.
“I think communication is our best doorway to keep people interested and invested in the Arboretum. For my part, I hope visitors make good memories while they are here and want to return and bring friends to experience what they experienced here,” she said. “Every time someone comes back for a visit, they are going to find something they’ve never seen before. That’s why I feel so fortunate to able to work here — it’s a place discovery and beauty that is grounded in practicality. There is always something new to learn.”