Meet GardenComm Virtual Conference Speakers Abra Lee and Ellen Zachos


Starting today through Thursday, you will receive a dailyGardenComm Virtual Conference “Speaker Spotlight” email featuring one or more of our speakers. The series content includes responses to personal and industry questions we have asked all our speakers so you can get to know them better (sort of like chatting with them at a meal or in the hallway – a pivot for 2020).  

We are thrilled to kick-off our Speaker Spotlight Series with our opening session co-presenters,Abra Lee, owner ofConquer the Soil, a community that celebrates horticulture beyond plants andEllen Zachos, the Backyard Forager, a Harvard graduate, author of seven books, regular columnist for Edible New Mexico, and co-host of the Plantrama podcast. 

Abra and Ellen’s discussion,Finding Your Purpose, Forging Your Path, will explore the well-developed specialty, singular passion and unique voice each of us have to answer WHY people should listen to you. And when you’ve figured out your WHY, when you’ve found your purpose, your people will find you. And isn’t that why we all do what we do?

This isn’t a quick and easy fix. Finding your purpose takes time and dedication. But once you’ve defined your WHY, once you’ve discovered your purpose, work is no longer work. The joy of doing what you love is priceless. 
Please enjoy the below Q&A with Abra (responses noted as AL) and Ellen (responses noted as EZ). 

Tell us a little about what you do and how long have you worked in the horticulture industry?

AL: I write and speak for the company I founded named Conquer the Soil where I provide an experience in horticulture beyond the world of plants. My audience is people that are fond of culture, history, pop culture, and the arts. So I discuss these things with them through the lens of horticulture. 
I have worked in this industry for 20 years.

EZ: My first career was on Broadway. After leaving the cast of Les Miz, I went back to school at the New York Botanical Garden and earned certificates in ornamental horticulture and ethnobotany. I taught at the NYBG on a wide range of subjects, and founded Acme Plant Stuff, a boutique garden design/install/maintenance company specializing in rooftop gardens and private greenhouses. In 2014 I moved from NYC to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I continue to enjoy an entirely new plant palette. 

What is the first garden-related experience you can remember? OR What is the first plant you ever grew successfully?

AL: My first garden-related experiences happened in my childhood. On the weekend we would go down to my Mama’s hometown of Barnesville, Georgia. It was rural and the the dirt road country and I loved it. Here I was exposed to gardening on our family farm.

EZ: My yiayia was an amazing gardener. She died before she could teach me (although I bet she knew how to forage because she was a sturdy Greek peasant), but I remember she grew a peach tree from a pit and gave it to my dad, who planted it in front of our house. I don’t know how old I was, but we moved out of that house when I was 9, so I’m guessing I was 4-5. That peach tree produced the sweetest, most delicious peaches I’ve ever eaten.

Talk about a mistake you made in your garden once that turned into an unexpected learning experience.

AL: I remember being an intern and on my first week on the job and skinning the bermuda grass (cutting it too low) with a mower. My supervisor was irate with me. I learned a) stay calm everybody it’s just grass —and— b) when I became in charge one day I would never ever talk to my team like that.

EZ: I once planted a large window box for a client with a small terrace and no irrigation. I’d never take on a terrace client without irrigation now, but I was young and foolish. I incorporated some water retaining polymer granules. I thought that was smart. What was NOT smart was that I didn’t hydrate them before mixing them into the potting mix. I watered the planted window box and went home. The next day I got a call from my very confused client. As the granules absorbed water overnight, they expanded, and the soil and plants spilled out over the edge, making a huge mess. 

If you could only give one piece of advice to a new gardener, what would it be?

AL: Poke around and try a little bit of everything. Garden tours, different plants, flower shows, various products, bonsai, etc. You will find your lane and find your people if you give yourself the freedom to experience all kinds of different stuff.
EZ: Don’t beat yourself up when something dies on your watch. It happens to all of us, and that’s how we learn.

What is your favorite plant to grow? OR, In your next life, if you were to come back as any plant, what would it be?
AL: Orchids have done wonders for my self-esteem. I am pretty proud that everytime I have been gifted an orchid I get it to rebloom multiple times. Since I have a 0% fail rate with that plant (and fingers crossed I keep it up) it is my favorite one to grow.

EZ: Oh my god, I am going to pretend you didn’t ask me what plant I’d like to be in my next life. First of all, there is no next life. Second, I do not want to be a plant.

What’s a good teaser we could provide to audiences about your session content that might pique their interest? 

It isn’t until you are brave enough to stand out that you start to fit in. Join this candid discussion on how we ran out of darns to give and freed our brands by embracing our true identities in the garden industry.
We all look forward to seeing you online August 10 – 13. More conference information here.

Interested in Sponsorship for visibility and access to the GardenComm Network? Click here to email us today.

Author: GardenComm

GardenComm, formerly known as GWA: the Association for Garden Communicators, provides leadership and opportunities for education, recognition, career development and a forum for diverse interactions for professionals in the field of gardening communication. GardenComm members includes book authors, bloggers, staff editors, syndicated columnists, free-lance writers, photographers, speakers, landscape designers, television and radio personalities, consultants, publishers, extension service agents and more. No other organization in the industry has as much contact with the buying public as GardenComm members.

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