Student stories: Museum landscape chief grateful for college training

April 09, 2009
When Jeff Nagle was a student in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, he used to dream up landscaping plans for local homes and present them to homeowners as projects for a landscape design class. Today, more than a decade later, he is no longer dreaming up landscaping plans -- he is turning them into reality and supervising their execution.
Best of all, many visitors to one of the nation's best-known attractions get to enjoy them.
His creative course in landscape design taught him to envision what landscapes should look like and how to transform his plans from just good ideas to real-world surroundings. But Nagle never dreamed that one day he would get to make all of the major landscaping decisions at a museum as large as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Nagle, of Arlington, Va., is the Smithsonian's supervisory horticulturalist. His job requires that he oversee the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens and plants on Smithsonian museum grounds. He heads a staff of about 10 other horticulturalists, biological science technicians and volunteers.
"They work the grounds that surround the museums, and together, we discuss the long-term plans for the Smithsonian landscape," Nagle said.
Nagle, who graduated from Penn State in 1998, and staff take care of seven different museum outdoor areas and three main specialty gardens that are considered to be the most frequented outdoor museum spots around the Smithsonian. Nagle said that the Smithsonian's lavish gardens are generally regarded as meeting spots or gathering places where frequent museum visitors like to meet up with friends and colleagues to take nature walks or simply to sit and relax.
Nagle credits Penn State for having a renowned horticulture study program that helped him land his job at the museum. "Penn State was one of the few schools in the nation that had a horticulture major when I was looking at colleges," he said.
Nagle recalls that his landscape design class was his favorite at Penn State. "It required a lot of creativity and a lot of drawing," Nagle said. "We would go out to a house, draw-up a new landscape, and present it to the homeowners there. It really prepared you in terms of what it would be like to have clients."
The best part about his job as supervisory horticulturist, Nagle noted, is that he gets to see people enjoying the grounds that he cares for, firsthand, every day. "It's incredible, the number of people who get genuine enjoyment out of the work I do," he said. "You can see it in the way people remark about the different displays and stop to smell the flowers."
  • IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010