Student Stories: Horticulture major ready to watch career bloom

Amy Hinkle had her first entrepreneurial encounter with flowers when she was 11 years old, selling them at her local farmers market in Columbus, Ohio.

When she was 9 years old, her family started selling goods from their produce farm at that market. Hinkle noticed that only one other person there sold flowers -- and he could not keep up with the demand.

By the time she graduated from high school, her family's stand was selling about 20 different kinds of field-grown annuals.

Hinkle, a senior horticulture major with a business production focus, came to Penn State because of its strong agriculture program, and because it was far away from her home.

She is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flowers, through which she met the U.S. representative of a lily bulb sales company based in Holland. He recommended her for an internship at Longwood Gardens, designing, cutting and arranging displays for their flower display "Lilytopia."

"Lilytopia is a showcase for the products of the Dutch lily-breeding efforts," said Hinkle. "I got to work alongside the world-class Dutch floral designer Dorien van der Berg as one of her personal assistants.

"I did what she told me to do, which involved designing, cutting and arranging flowers," she said. "Dorien spoke English well, but her other assistants did not, so I did a lot of work based on being shown and not told."

The showcase took place in Longwood's East Conservatory, an indoor greenhouse, and used over 10,000 cut flowers. Last year, the show attracted more than 55,000 people, and that number increased this summer. It was a one-day event that included huge arches, pillars, vases and other displays.

"The whole space was covered in lilies," said Hinkle. "We had four days of set up and two days for refreshing the display after the heat started to get to the flowers. We did almost everything while the public wasn't able to view it."

She said the most challenging part of the experience was communicating with everyone else working on the showcase.

"There were people from Holland and South America present," said Hinkle. "Communication sometimes was difficult because we had English, Dutch and Spanish going on -- all at the same time."

She said she learned to have patience, especially when working with other cultures. She needed to maintain a high level of coordination and endurance throughout the event.

Hinkle has been a teaching assistant for HORT 352, a class for flower arranging, completed internships with Bear Creek Farms in Stillwater, Okla., and spent the remainder of the past summer at a flower farm in Iowa.

She wants to pursue a career in cut-flower growing and plans to go into the floral industry after graduating. In five years, she wants to open her own specialty cut-flower farm and sell her products to florists.

"Hard work is really important in this business," she said. "You really have to be dedicated. And people are especially important -- it's who you know as much as what you know."

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Last Updated April 04, 2012