Jul 8th, 2015

Meet Horticulturist Chelsea Mahaffey

chelsea M and girl

Chelsea working the Butterflies LIVE! line on July 4th.

One of the best things about working at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is our staff. Recently we  hired several new horticulturists and interns, and as we are getting to know them, we thought you’d enjoy getting to know them too.  Today, meet Chelsea Mahaffey, our new Conservatory Horticulturist.  I’ve known Chelsea for a few weeks now. She heard me telling all the horticulturists, “Send me a text or an email if you spot a really cool bloom I need to see! I’ll post it on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and share with everyone what’s blooming and looking really great.”

The next day I got an email from Chelsea. Subject line: Pachyphytum Blooming!  She wrote, “The Pachypodium lamerei in the [Conservatory] west wing corner is blooming on top!” I was excited, if only because of her exclamation points. But was thinking, “What’s a Pachypodium lamerei?!  Here’s the resulting Facebook post if you are curious.

My point is the Chelsea has a contagious enthusiasm. It’s obvious she loves her job. If you were one of our many visitors who came to see Butterflies LIVE! on our free admission day during CarMax Free Fourth of July, you probably met her. She was the one with the lemony scented arid orchid, Aerides houlletiana.  She took it to all of our guests who were waiting in line so they could see (and smell) something new. Then she showed them how it didn’t even have any soil!  See what I mean? Okay Chelsea, take it away!

Chelsea Mahaffey, Conservatory Horticulturist
I am the advocate of all things under glass; everything from tropical plants, beneficial bugs, and especially guest interpretation.

girl smelling orchid

Smelling the arid orchid. Notice how there is not dirt for the orchid. It doesn’t need it. In their native environment these orchids grow in trees.

chlesea with girl smelling orchid

Smells like lemons!

Question: What’s your favorite part of the garden?
Answer: The moment you step out of the orchid wing and overlook the entire garden! It’s amazing to see the transitions within the gardens, but to see it as a whole is mesmerizing.

Question: Tell us something that surprising about you that your coworkers might not know.

Answer: My favorite genre of movie are kid’s movies. Any given weeknight, I could be watching “Ice Age” or “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” They are so much more creative and I like to take that creativity into my own work. I’ll take that over any other blockbuster any night!

Question: Where did you work before you came to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden?
Answer: I’ve worked at a variety of places before coming to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: a zoo, an urban farm, an arboretum, a retail greenhouse — just to name a few. Most recently I worked at Peace Tree Farm, a wholesale tropical greenhouse in south east Pennsylvania. My primary focus there was forcing annuals and perennials for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Forcing was so much fun! Who doesn’t like to see Astilbe bloom in February?

Question: What do you do in your free time?
Answer: Recently, I’ve been cooking a lot, mostly brunches on the weekends. I’ve been reading “East of Eden” on my sunny porch. I’m trying to start up our herb garden, but our lawn boy keeps mowing over things when we aren’t around. Also I might be out in the yard playing with my dog, Lady.

Question: Where did you grow up?
Answer: I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I enjoyed the summers there. There was always a lot to do in the summer from the Peninsula, the beach, or even just playing out in my mom’s garden. The winters were a different story; there is only so much snow a person can take.

Question: What part of Richmond do you live in?
Answer: I live in the southern tip of Highland Park. I’m a sucker for Queen Anne Victorian houses. It also has a fenced in yard, which my dog enjoys quite a bit.

Question: What’s your favorite plant?
Answer: I have a big soft spot for begonias, you’ll start to see me sneaking in lots of cool varieties soon! But my all-time favorite plant is Solanum pyracanthum (sometimes called the porcupine tomato) Bluish tinted leaves, veins covered in neon orange spines, with dainty purple flowers. Who could resist?!
Editor’s Note: We don’t have Solanum Pyracanthum yet, but Chelsea says she’ll be ordering some, so look for it soon! 

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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