An orchid in the hands of most six year olds would most likely find itself “pot-side-up” by the end of the day. Not so with Greg Speichert. The orchid, a gift from his grandfather, was the seed to his passion for gardening. As a child his natural curiosity and endless energy fueled his love for horticulture. Today, Greg is the Director of Hilltop Gardens at Indiana University. He is literally a walking encyclopedia of gardening information and likes nothing better than to talk about growing and breeding plants. He is also a nationally recognized expert in water plants and water gardening.
After grandfather’s orchid, Greg moved into cactus. By the age of nine he was grooming Bonsai and began in earnest to collect plants and bugs. A collection of plants and insects from a trip to California included little redwood trees and banana slugs that he raised in his family’s solar greenhouse in Coon Rapids, MN. At age eleven he completed and mailed an application to a national Bonsai conference in Chicago. He financed the fee with earnings from mowing lawns and shoveling snow. After confessing his age to the conference organizers (and getting their approval), his parents allowed him to fly solo to Chicago. An aunt, who lived in the area, chauffeured him to the three-day conference.
At fourteen his family moved to Indiana. This enabled Greg to spend more time with his grandfather visiting conservatories, botanical gardens and attending various garden meetings and conferences. Through these meetings Greg learned about the diversity of gardening. This experience convinced Greg that gardening has something for everyone. As Greg says, “If you don’t like growing flowers you can work with vegetables, grasses, shrubs, natural habitats, breeding new species or any of an endless list of other aspects of horticulture.”
Not surprisingly, when it was time for college, Greg enrolled at Purdue University to become a horticulturist. After graduation Greg found jobs in a variety of horticulture fields. Always eager to grow his collections of seeds and plants he corresponded with gardeners around the world exchanging species. He learned the wholesale side of horticulture working as a grower and propagation specialist. His experiences include serving as Chief Horticulturist and Landscape Manager for Aramark Management Services of Chicago, Il. Greg was responsible for the landscaping, planting and maintenance of major landscape elements for the City of Chicago including the planters on Michigan Avenue and within the city’s major parks.
From 1989 until 2003 Greg served as President of Crystal Palace Perennials, Ltd., a retail and wholesale plant production operation, in St. John, IN. He formed the Company in 1989 to provide high quality water plants. During this time he was also the publisher of and a contributor to Water Gardening Magazine, a bi-monthly consumer magazine devoted to educating hobby water gardeners and homeowners about caring and enjoying their pond and water features.
Greg became the Director at Indiana University’s Hilltop Gardens in August 2007. His mission is to “teach a whole new generation about gardening and the importance of gardening and being in and with nature and to diversity the landscape of the university campus so it isn’t like any other.”
Hilltop collects and distributes 600 seed starting kits to school students and distributes sunflower seeds to many other youngsters. These outreach programs have already involved more than 2,500 elementary students. In a sense, this is Greg’s way of paying back the gift of the orchid at age six and the mentoring of his grandfather and parents.
Note, Greg is the author of four books including The Encyclopedia of Water Garden Plants and has contributed to numerous magazines and journals including Fine Gardening, Horticulture Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. Greg is also a frequent speaker at garden clubs and horticulture events. Greg is married and the father of two children. Sadly, Greg passed away in October 2010.
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