Learning About Plants, Standing Ovations and Amazing People!

I just got back last night from a meeting of the International Plant Propagator’s Society. This year’s meeting was held on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. IPPS, as we all call it for short, is an outstanding organization dedicated to disseminating information about the propagation and production of plants. It is always, for me at least, a very educational meeting. This year I learned, or was reminded really, that you can live your whole life on a nursery and not know diddly-squat about plants compared to some people.


In my defense, I love plants but I view them mostly as a means of earning a living and not as an all-consuming passion. When I have time off, which has gotten to be pretty rare, I’d rather hunt, fish or kayak than think about plants. A good sized portion of the folks at IPPS are true plant people. When they have time off they’re scouring swamps, valleys and mountain-tops the world over looking for new and unusual plants. Thank God there are people like that. If it was left up to people like me we’d have a lot less plant variety at our disposal than we do now.


I was also reminded of what it is that makes this entire industry special; the people. IPPS meetings are made up of lecture sessions, nursery tours, catching up with old friends, eating out and beer drinking, but mostly the first two. Each lecture session consists of 3 or 4 speakers who are allotted about 20 minutes each, with a question and answer time at the end. Each session is hosted by a moderator who introduces the speakers, usually with some basic biographical information about whoever it is that’s doing the speaking. The moderators are also tasked with keeping everybody on schedule. Some folks, and we both some of them, are obsessed with hearing themselves talk and almost have to forcibly separated from a microphone.


To be asked to speak is a big honor, as is being asked to moderate a session, although being the moderator requires much less preparation than being a speaker does. When you’re the speaker you are expected to use visual aids, mostly power-point presentations, and to hold everybody’s attention for 15 or 20 minutes, a feat much more difficult than you’d think. Being the moderator is considerably easier since about all you really have to do is say a few nice things about each speaker you introduce. Being asked to moderate is roughly the equivalent of, say, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Not a huge deal, but an honor just the same.


But I saw something at this year’s IPPS that I’ve never seen before. Mrs. Margie Jenkins, of Amite, Louisiana, was introduced as the moderator of a session and she got a standing ovation. This is not all that different from getting a standing O for doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. But Mrs. Margie, who is 90ish, is so loved and so respected that the entire assembly, 200 people or so, stood in her honor. It was a very touching and well-deserved show of affection for an exceptional lady, one who has made an incredible contribution to our industry.


There are numerous PhDs at IPPS on a regular basis. These are people who have devoted their careers to the discovery and cultivation of new and improved (mostly) plant species and cultivars. There are a few, like Drs. Mike Dirr and David Creech, who rightfully qualify as firsts among equals. But I’m sure that even at the age of 90 or thereabouts, Mrs. Jenkins can keep up with the best of them. If she has lost any of her mental acuity, I am unable to detect it. She is truly an extraordinary person who, believe it or not, is as humble as she is brilliant. It is not usual for that level of intelligence and accomplishment to be paired with humility. If you get to know her you run out of superlatives to describe her.


There is a lot to like about our industry, but as far as I’m concerned nothing compares to the people. To call Mrs. Jenkins a one-in-a-million would fall far short of her true uniqueness. I’d call her a one-of-a-kind. And while I feel like a complete dunce when I’m in her presence, I consider myself quite blessed to know her.

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