Imagine you are a sophomore majoring in Horticulture from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture taking courses at Temple Ambler, including the popular Woody Plant Identification class taught by Ambler Arboretum Director Kathy Salisbury.

Now imagine representatives from the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association popping up in a Zoom presentation on the big screen in front of the class surprising you with a scholarship for the dedication you have already clearly shown for your craft.

Horticulture senior Grace Lenart doesn't have to imagine it since it happened to her during her second year at Temple. Fast forward to 2024 and the moment is still clearly etched in Lenart's mind.

"I didn't know I was getting the award until I entered class — to me it was just a regular day. The whole PLNA board was there on Zoom and we were all sitting there in class — they were saying congratulations and initially I didn't fully grasp that it was about me," said Lenart, who is graduating with a degree in Horticulture from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture. "It felt very special that a group of people would come together to celebrate the things that I've done and my achievements. It was a wonderful motivator to continue to do the best I could in horticulture."

Horticulture has been part of Lenart's life almost from the very beginning, she said.

"I've been going to the Philadelphia Flower Show with my parents since I was in a stroller. A few years ago, we went and I saw the Temple exhibit," she said. "We ended up staying at that exhibit for a long time, talking to the students and asking how they created the exhibit, how they planned it, the materials that they used — I had found that everything they had done to make that exhibit come to life was very interesting to me. At the time, I wasn't quite ready to go to college, but I kept that experience in my back pocket — I really felt 'these are my people.'"

A transfer student from Bucks County Community College, when Lenart was ready to make the leap to Temple, she toured the Ambler Campus "and knew right away it was for me."

"A lot of students here are transfer students or adult learners. A lot of my credits transferred, and I worked with my advisors to figure out a plan," she said. "It felt like home — it felt like a very natural fit. I have a passion and I wanted to discover how I could use it — Temple's Horticulture program seemed to me like, finally, this feels right. This is definitely what I want to do."

Not someone to just head to class and head home, Lenart has fully embraced her opportunities at Temple Ambler. She began working as a student gardener with the Ambler Arboretum after the tornado hit in September 2021.

"I started in December because I knew that applying what I learned in class would help me absorb the information. I also saw the destruction from the tornado and it made me want to lend a helping hand and see what I could do in the next few years to make a difference," she said. "That's one of the things that sets Tyler's Horticulture program apart; it's very dynamic. We learn in class then we can go outside on campus and apply what we've learned — I think that is the most amazing thing."

Lenart calls working in the Arboretum "one of my biggest accomplishments at Temple."

"When the tornado hit, a lot was destroyed. We have planted hundreds of trees in an effort to repopulate the gardens. It's been a lot of work but now that we're on year three, I feel like we're seeing some change," she said. "It's given us a good feeling that everything is going in the right direction. There's a lot of satisfaction in the work we've been doing, and we've been getting a lot of comments from visitors saying that they see the difference; it feels really good to hear that."

Working in the Arboretum also led to one of the other achievements Lenart is most proud of — and led her back to the Philadelphia Flower Show in a whole new way, this time as an exhibitor.

Lenart was one of four Arboretum student gardeners who made Temple's 2022 Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit — Queer Roots of Nature: A Natural History of LGBTQ Botany — come to life along with Frankie Napoli (Horticulture), Danny Logue (Landscape Architecture) and Emilia Zabegay (Horticulture).

"Although Pride Month gives LGBTQ+ folks a month of celebration, our existence as queer/gay/LGBTQ+ individuals is relevant all of other 11 months of the year," said Lenart at the time of building the exhibit. "We are not LGBTQ+ people, just people that happen to be proudly LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ love and existence in society is natural. We aim to convey that LGBTQ+ folks' acts of love have largely been communicated through botanical means; that our identity, love, and belonging are all connected through the uniting medium of nature."

Looking back at the entire experience of designing and building the exhibit as handful of Ambler Arboretum student gardeners, "rather than a landscape architecture design-build class and working with a smaller budget and a limited amount of time," Lenart calls it "a trip!"  

"It was definitely a feat, particularly with the Flower Show being at FDR park that year during the summer. We had to take into account the conditions in which the plants would be and how to design the exhibit so that we wouldn't have to water as much," she said. "I would say it's one of my greatest achievements because some part of me was doubting that we would get it done but we worked together and we accomplished it. We actually made one of the patrons that visited the exhibit cry. It was very touching to know that the work that we put in had an impact on people in that way — there was definitely a lot of emotion put into that project."

Lenart's dedication to the field of Horticulture and to the Ambler Arboretum and Temple Ambler have certainly not gone unnoticed. In addition to several scholarships over her time at Temple — most recently the Viola Anders Merit Award, "funded by the Ambler College Alumni Association and presented for meritorious service in the greenhouse or the Landscape Arboretum of Temple University Ambler" — Lenart received two major honors at the annual Ambler Campus Student Engagement Banquet.

She was awarded the Ambler Arboretum Jane Bowne Haines Award, given to a graduating Ambler Arboretum student gardener who epitomizes the vision and tradition of Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women founder Jane Bowne Haines — "this student has combined a trained mind with their trained hands and developed the skills to become an accomplished professional in the art and science of horticulture" — and a Golden Owl Award, given to graduating seniors who have displayed outstanding leadership and dedication to the Temple Ambler campus community through their participation in on-campus activities, organizations and community efforts.

"The Ambler Campus has been a great resource for me — within this campus community everybody cares about each other. Someone who really got me through my projects and all of my research has been Sandi Thompson (Head of the Temple Ambler Library)," she said. "She has guided me throughout the databases and the books, even after the Library was moved and the books had to be recovered after the tornado. She really has been there to help me a lot."

The Temple Ambler Facilities staff, Lenart said, "were incredibly helpful with moving our exhibit pieces and being there to help with the logistics of it all when we did the Flower Show."

"I just feel like you always have somebody to lean on here," she said. "If you need something, there are going to be resources at Ambler to help you."

Degree nearly complete, Lenart said she is planning to get her Horticultural Therapy Certificate at Temple after graduation.

"Following that, I will need to get 12 credits of Psychology — I will shadow a horticultural therapist and then I can get my registration in Horticultural Therapy," she said. "This summer I'll be interning at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve; I'm very excited for that! I'll get to work on the trails and work with volunteers and interact in a different environment. I have all of this experience from the Arboretum, and I can't wait to apply my knowledge."

Her advice to students beginning their journey is not to be afraid to "simply try things out."

"I didn't even think I would be interested in horticultural therapy. I initially took a course because I needed an elective and it ended up really sticking with me," she said. "Try things, apply for scholarships, and see what happens. That's how you get support from others, just by giving yourself a chance."