Kim DeLong used to think she had a “black thumb.” Once she began working with plants, DeLong was amazed that she could even make whole new plants from cuttings. Her horticultural awakening brought about a love for ferns and a fascination with orchids.
Job title: Greenhouse Manager in the Department of Biological Sciences
How long have you been at Dartmouth?
Two and a half years.
What brought you here?
I grew up in Madison, Wis., but a stint at Yellowstone National Park triggered a mid-life career change. I managed a gift shop in the park from March 2001 through October 2002. When I returned home, I knew that somehow I had to work with nature. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I started taking horticulture classes. At the same time, I began working at a large greenhouse complex at the University of California, Berkeley. I then moved to managing a smaller greenhouse at Berkeley and collecting plant cuttings for biology classes.
What’s at the heart of your role at Dartmouth?
Greenhouse assistant Theresa Barry and I take care of all the plants and orchids in the public end of the greenhouse. We also support the research needs of the faculty and graduate students in the greenhouse and growth chambers. We water the plants by hand, do pest monitoring and control, repot, and cut back plants. We’ve also been putting up informational signs on the plants.
What’s your favorite part of working here?
I love giving tours to the little kids. I tell them to touch the plants. So often, they’re told by adults, “Don’t touch.” The children are surprised by the sensitive plants that fold their leaves tightly as a defense mechanism when touched. While everyone expects only the flowers to smell nice, we also have several plants that have scented leaves. The mint and geranium families have leaves that are scented. Kids are surprised by that. There’s also a plant in the violet family that has very soft leaves. Kids love to touch it.
What else do you like about the job?
Plants amaze me. My passion is ethnobotany, the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants. So, in the informational signs by the plants, I’ve tried to include as much traditional and medical information as possible. A lot of greenhouse visitors are fascinated by the arid room, the cacti and succulents. I’ve learned a lot about the orchids since coming here to Dartmouth since we have the Brout Orchid Collection. My favorite plants in the greenhouse are the ferns. They are delicate looking, and there are so many varieties. They’re just beautiful. People always ask me how many plants I have at home. “Zero!” I’m like the chef who doesn’t want to come home and cook at night.
Photos by Eli Burakian ’00