Close this search box.

The Garden Guru

Amanda Hyman teaches Garden Guru classes at VanderSalm’s. © 2017 Encore Publications
Plant lover shares her wealth of knowledge

Amanda Hyman came close to having a profession that involved carrying a firearm and assessing criminal behavior, but instead she now wields a garden trowel and sketches landscape plans.

The landscape specialist at VanderSalm’s Flowershop and Garden Center, in Kalamazoo, was only a few classes short of a degree in criminal justice and sociology at Western Michigan University when a change of heart rerouted her career plans: She no longer wanted to become a criminal profiler.

“I got a job here (at VanderSalm’s) trying to figure out what I was going to do next,” Hyman says.

That soul searching didn’t take long. Hyman immediately fell in love with plants after being hired as a sales clerk at VanderSalm’s in 2002.

“When I started with the plants, it was like, ‘I want to do this,’” she says.

Hyman learned anything and everything about perennials, shrubs and trees. By the time she went to Michigan State University in 2011 to pursue a degree in landscape design and horticulture, she already knew the plants by their scientific names.

“I didn’t know the common names of things,” Hyman says, laughing. “I was backwards from everybody.”

Hyman, who grew up in Okemos, lived there with her parents during the school week. On weekends she returned to Kalamazoo and stayed with Justin Hyman, her then-fiancé (now husband). Hyman continued working at VanderSalm’s and also interned at Kellogg Biological Station, in Hickory Corners, and Gull Lake Landscape Co., in Richland. Originally, she planned to major in landscape architecture, but switched to landscape design because it focused more on the plants.

“Landscape architects and landscape designers often work together because the designers know what to plant where,” Hyman says.

All about plants

Hyman is all about the plants, so much so that she can’t even settle on a favorite — or a few favorites for that matter.

“In every green shrub I’d have a favorite, and every flowering shrub I’d have a favorite,” she says. “There would just be too many.”

After graduating from MSU in 2014, Hyman became VanderSalm’s landscape specialist, a position in which she orders the plants, answers customers’ landscape and horticulture questions and travels to customers’ homes for landscape design consultations. After viewing their property during these consultations, Hyman sits down with customers and discovers what they are looking for and how much they would like to invest — not only monetarily. Her biggest landscaping tip is this: Evaluate how much time you want to invest in caring for plants.

“Because you can have a really nice garden that still looks good even if you can’t put in hours and hours,” Hyman explains. “You just have to know what your restrictions are because you can plant a ton of flowers and not have time to take care of them.”

Hyman also puts her education to work teaching a host of VanderSalm’s free Garden Guru classes. Held on Saturdays, the classes include Building a Fairy Garden, Planting Vegetable Seeds, Growing Roses, Growing Hydrangeas, and Creating Shade and Native Plant Gardens — to name a few. While Hyman teaches many of the Garden Guru classes, fellow VanderSalm’s staffer Ignacio Luna, the plant design coordinator, teaches the class on succulents, and Lexie Lantinga, the shop’s wedding designer, teaches design classes.

VanderSalm’s pays attention to gardening trends, Hyman says, by noticing when several customers start asking questions about the same topic and by seeing hot sellers such as fairy gardens in gardening catalogues.

“It’s pretty easy to keep your finger on the pulse (of trends),” Hyman says.

Cultivating a fairy garden

Adults and children attend the fairy garden class, which is free except for the materials. Before the class, Hyman takes students around the store to view the examples on display, select a container, and pick tiny items such as mushrooms, chairs, houses, bridges, ponds and miniature live plants. Some people decide to build a fairy garden the size of a coffee can while others create a desktop-sized version, Hyman says.

“It’s pretty much up to your own imagination what you want to do,” she says.

Hyman believes students’ interest in planting vegetables from seeds results from wanting to know where their foods are coming from and to avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and chemically derived pesticides. Some of her students seek organic options.

“We have certain natural repellents for your tomatoes that are marked organic,” Hyman says. “Organic food, organic soil — it’s pretty easy, if that’s what you’re going for, to find what you need.”

Growing vegetables also offers a feeling of accomplishment, she says, because they are easy to grow, especially tomatoes, green beans and anything in the pepper family.

VanderSalm’s keeps the class sizes limited to approximately 30 students. If a class garners great interest, the shop will create two classes on the subject — one in the morning on a Saturday and one in the evening. Hyman’s favorite class to teach is the one on shade gardening.

“People feel like they don’t have that many options (with shade gardening),” she explains. “It’s fun to introduce people to these really cool plants.”

Lisa Mackinder

Lisa’s work has previously appeared in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Animal Wellness, Dog World, Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine, MiBiz, and other publications. Though having covered a wide-range of topics, Lisa most enjoys composing people-centric pieces, as well as those featuring nature and animals. She lives in Portage with her husband, and when not at her Mac, participates in outdoor activities, including fly fishing, gardening and hiking.

Leave a Reply

Schoolcraft couple crafts seasoning blends, vinegars and teas
Lillie House Permaculture creates pathways to plenty
Precision, detail and beauty in botanical artist’s work

Support local journalism by subscribing to Encore

By becoming a subscriber, you can help secure the future of Encore’s local reporting.

One year for
Just $3 a month!

Sign up for our Newsletter

Never miss an issue by getting Encore delivered to your Inbox every month.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by those interviewed and featured in our articles do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Encore Magazine or the official policies, owners or employees of Encore Publications.

Encore Magazine is published 12 times a year. © 2024 Encore Publications. All Rights Reserved.
117 W. Cedar St., Suite A, Kalamazoo, MI 49007 (269) 383-4433