20Q: Catching up with Rotary Gardens horticulturist Mark Dwyer

 

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Mark Dwyer

Dwyer is director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, where he has worked for the past 18 years. Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1970, he later moved to the Midwest. He holds a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and a master's degree in urban forestry from UW-Stevens Point. He is married to his wife of 17 years, Amy Burns, and has two daughters, Luciana, 16, and Dejanique, 26.

To read Dwyer's blog, visit RotaryBotanicalGardens.org/blog. He also can be reached by email at mark.dwyer@rotarygardens.com

1. What planted the seeds for your career in horticulture? I'm a momma's boy, and my two brothers never had an interest in helping mom in the garden. By default, I helped mom garden from an early age, and my parents made sure we experienced nature often and that we actually played outside a lot (lacking today unfortunately).

2. There are many songs and musical artists with plant references in their names. Do you have a particular favorite? I love classic rock, and some favorite “flower titles” would include “Sugar Magnolia” (The Grateful Dead), “Hyacinth House” (The Doors) and “Black Rose” (Thin Lizzy). I enjoy any reference to flowers and plants.

3. What is the one thing RBG visitors do that you wish they wouldn't? Very rarely, we'll have visitors at the garden taking photographs and ignoring our rules about not stepping in flowerbeds, climbing on water features or staging their photos in inappropriate locations. We encourage photography, but not at the expense of the plant collections, garden damage, visitor safety or that perfect shot.

4. You're a vegan. Have you found any good munchables on the RBG grounds? We always grow heirloom tomatoes in various locations, and those are delicious. With our focus on featuring edibles in the landscape annually, there is no shortage of plants to nibble (although we discourage our visitors from doing so).

5. Is there any truth to the theory that talking to plants helps them grow? This topic has been researched since the 1800s, and what research is showing is that plants respond to vibrations in sound waves and are essentially stimulated to grow more robust. In fact, a recent study with different types of music showed heavy-metal music statistically produced the best growth.

6. What is your favorite season? Early spring. While I love all seasons, the emergence of plants after a long winter is refreshing and invigorating. The weeds are also not too bad yet at that point in time.

7. People would be surprised to know that: My original major in college was civil engineering, and a lack of focus on physics and advanced calculus is what pushed me ultimately in the direction of landscape architecture and plants. That F in advanced calculus is why I'm here.

8. Do you have any allergies? I'm fortunate to have no allergies.

9. What would you name the autobiography of your life? “Mark Dwyer and His Marginally Unhealthy Plant Infatuation.”

10. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? I'd love to learn how to conduct music and direct the best symphonies with the best orchestras in the world.

11. What's the best way to treat a bad case of poison ivy? Rinsing your skin with cool, soapy water or rubbing alcohol within about an hour of touching poison ivy is a start. There are then many products that will mitigate some of the symptoms of the oil penetration on the skin. Don't scratch; focus on products for relief and wait it out. Severe cases should be seen by a dermatologist.

12. In your experience, which plant is the most difficult to grow? We've tried to grow Himalayan poppies (Meconopsis) many times, as their azure blue flowers are gorgeous. They are very particular, and our hot Wisconsin summers are just too intense for this plant to do well. Knowing the native preferences of plants can help with their proper consideration and placement.

13. Do different plants benefit from different mulches, or is there one particular mulch that works best with everything? Most plants will benefit from mulching, and it's not so much a condition of the type of mulch but the proper application and depth. There are substandard mulches, but the finer, shredded mulches are effective when used at a maintained depth of 2 to 3 inches.

14. Have you ever been involved in the discovery/breeding of a new variety of plant? Not directly. However, I did help pick out a beautiful hosta with Jeff Miller of Land of the Giants Hosta Farm in Milton that is being named after our founder, Dr. Robert Yahr. This “Dr. Robert Yahr hosta” will be available for sale at the gardens next year. It is one of a kind.

15. Plants feed us, beautify the world, provide oxygen, blend into fabrics and serve as ingredients in medicine. Is there anything they can't do? I don't think people understand how intertwined and dependent humans are on plants for so many of those reasons. Life on Earth is dependent on this relationship, and perhaps plants/agriculture will play a role in world peace … ?

16. Which of the five senses would you say is your strongest? I would say my vision is still quite strong, but I'm never shy about incorporating and enjoying scent in the garden. The connection to fragrance in the garden is quite powerful.

17. What is the strangest question you've ever been asked about plants? I remember some folks asking for a list of the thorniest plants for their landscape. I asked why, and they indicated they were creating a thorny “barrier thicket” to keep out the obnoxious neighbor kids.

18. Some people tend to plants as a hobby, but you do it for a living. What do you do as a hobby? My career and hobby overlap nicely. In my spare time, I visit gardens and take lots of photos. Photography of plants, flower combinations, etc., is my favorite pastime currently.

19. Share a plant name that always makes you giggle when you hear it: There is a plant called Hairy Balls, which is a tropical milkweed (Asclepias) that forms interesting fruiting structures.

20. Is the grass always greener on the other side? Almost never. Focus on the grass on your side of the fence, and it can be as green as you like.

Know someone involved in the local arts/entertainment community you think would be a great subject for 20Q? Email kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.

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