Sam Makler, Nursey Manager, Collins Nursery at the Ambler Arboretum

When Sam Makler first learned about John Collins in his Landscape Architecture classes at Temple, he immediately felt a connection to the founding Chairman of Temple's four-year Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs.

"His achievements in landscape architecture were amazing, but he was also dedicated to horticulture. He was growing plants since he was a kid and that was the same for me; my parents' porch was covered with my plants," said Makler, a 2021 graduate of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Landscape Architecture program who recently returned to Temple Ambler to take on a dream job — Nursery Manager for the Collins Nursery at the Ambler Arboretum.

"The more you learn about (Collins), the more you realize he was ahead of his time," he said. "He was a true champion for native plants and for supplying native plants to the region; he saw the need to have a location that could provide those quality plant materials."

Makler said he is honored to be "a part of a continuation of what Collins started."

"The goals and objectives behind bringing the Collins Nursery to the Ambler Arboretum are something that I hold close to my heart. I have the opportunity to grow some amazing, predominantly native, plants and know that I'm benefiting all of the local ecologies where those plants will grow," he said. "There is so much potential for students and the public to have a unique experience with the nursery; a way to gain a greater awareness of how we are interacting with our environment — that was something that John Collins was a big proponent of and advocate for."

According to Ambler Arboretum Director Kathy Salisbury, Makler joins the Ambler Arboretum team already having experience working for a non-profit, growing plants for sale at a nursery through the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust.  

"He also brings with him a passion for plants — complimenting the Arboretum staff very well. As an alumnus, he also understands the value of this campus and how the nursery can connect and enhance what the students are learning here," she said. "It's creating another feature of this campus for students and opportunities for different types of experiential learning. Sam appreciates and understands that and understands the particular role of the nursery." 

Makler said it was his time at Temple Ambler and studying in the Ambler Arboretum that ignited the spark that fueled his passion for plant propagation.  

"I spent a year as an advertising major, but I knew it wasn't right for me. Learning about the Landscape Architecture program, I felt that was a perfect combination of everything I was interested in — it opened my world to the broad scope of the green industry," he said. "I worked while I was going to school and was very fortunate that there was a direct connection to what I was learning and where I was working. I was learning about woody plants and plant identification and then I was able to build on what I was doing in landscaping with those skills."

Having the Arboretum as a classroom was a truly unique experience, Makler said.  

"I had never had a class that was presented in that kind of format, studies that were connected to something in such a tangible way. I would walk around and get excited that I was able to say "I know what that tree is now!'" said Makler, who was also part of the student team that created Temple's award-winning 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit Course of Action: A Radical Tack for Suburban Tracts. "Temple Ambler was the first place I really experienced that, but it led me to so many more opportunities. It was a wonderful resource and great entry point to the world of Horticulture."

During his last two years at Temple, Makler said, he began working at the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT), focusing on ecological restoration.

"My title at PERT was horticulturist, but I was involved with stewardship, plant propagation, restoration planning and plant surveying on a 1,000-acre property," he said. "Every facet of what I was learning at Temple, everything that I loved about the field, I was able to implement at Pennypack. I felt very fortunate to have those opportunities as someone who was still a student.

Makler continued at PERT for nearly two years following graduation, departing to develop a small design and install company in the Huntingdon Valley area where he grew up. When the opportunity to become nursery manager at the Ambler Arboretum arrived, he jumped at the chance, he said.

"What makes the Collins Nursery so special to me — and what connects it even further to John Collins' legacy — is that it will provide such a strong educational environment. That is what I think will set it apart," he said. "We'll be providing our community with great plants, but people — students and the public — will be able to come here for unique educational experiences related to the nursery. That's an exciting way to spread the message and the mission of the Arboretum."

As nursery manager, Makler said, "my job encompasses the whole spectrum of work that will go into running the nursery, everything from the business side to growing the plants."

"During the cold months, we'll be involved with a lot of plant propagation in addition to seed sowing and seed collection. During the growing season, it will involve a lot of what always goes into growing and caring for plants; watering, weeding, general mantenance" he said "I know we're going to have student workers involved with all aspects of the nursery as well. There is going to be this huge opportunity to experience plant propagation, which is a great skill to have going into any aspect of the industry. We're able to keep building on and expanding what we have to offer — this is something that I know students have a lot of interest in."