Carly Steele, a fruit and vegetable manager at MetClosters, is committed to integrating the world of art and nature with her career. When you started working on the museum 10 years ago, it was close to the four medieval gardens, their carefully collected vegetation and its collection of sculptures, tapes, illustrated manuscripts and other treasures.
We met Still to.As a museum gardener, discuss how she entered the field and what Met Cloisters visitors can expect in the coming months.Filled with bay laurel, canned apples and fragrant holly, including a holiday display that will start on December 16th. Read below for more information.
First of all, how did you get interested in horticulture?
That is a good question. My background was actually in print. I studied at SUNY New Palts, and earned a bachelor’s degree in art. I think in my art practice, I was interested in plants. Many of my works were only abstract and organic. So I started looking at plants for artistic inspiration and then I thought, “Oh, I think it would be great to know more about these.”
A friend of mine had a gardening job, so I called her one day – it was summer, I was out of college – and she just said, “Hey, I want to know more about gardening. Coincidentally, do you need some new members in your staff?” And she hired me and I liked the job instantly.
I think like most gardeners. Once you start, you only need to keep growing in this lifelong relationship. I felt like a call. The quiet, meditative gardener is my favorite.
I did not know exactly what was going on in the world of work. I was in the northern part of New York and was laying the floor and pot on the back of a pickup truck. It was really hard work. But when I moved into the city, I realized that gardening and this whole field of work could be a profession.
Bonnefront Plantation Garden. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
How did you get to Closters?
I feel lucky. At the time, I was moving to Brooklyn, where I was practicing in a paper mill in a printing shop, and I really wanted to get my hands on the ground, only to lose my gardening. And I was looking for a job at NYFA. [the New York Foundation for the Arts]. I found this list in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and thought, “Oh my God! This looks amazing.” I never visited Closters, but in his job description, he mentioned fruit care, gardening and gardening, and greenhouse work. It was a part-time venue, but I thought, “This is a beautiful combination of my two favorite things: art and garden.”
So I actually applied, and then I came to visit the museum before I did the interview. I was suffocated in those small and close places. The woman I was interviewing was showing me around and there was this beautiful little shade, which was a wonderful place to dry out plants and a collection of plants. And I thought, “What kind of jewelry is this place?”
I was terrified. But I think at the time, Deedre, the gardener, probably liked me because I had a clever background and was taking her to the orchard. She was an amazing botanist and taught me this world of fairy tales. The story was in its infancy.
I was above the moon when they offered me the place. I really felt that it had changed my life in so many ways. Very humble, three days a week, it was seasonal work, but it grew from there.
In what ways did he grow up? And how did your site study and knowledge begin to shape your role?
There are really only three jobs in our small room. And soon after I started, a woman with a helping hand came out. So that full-time, full-time job opened really fast and I applied for it and got promoted.
Dardre Larkin was in charge of the gardens at that time. I think she encouraged me to study all the plants. So I was taking my degree in horticulture to New York’s Botanical Garden. She told me to take a course, and then she gave me a lot of reading material, although it was not clear. But she knows that my curiosity is there.
If you start walking in a vegetable garden, there are hundreds of plants, but you want to learn everything about each of them. And I was reading crazy on the train. At the time, Dire Dawa was a closed-door Medallion Garden blog about herthology and history of plants. I just ate that.
Each garden – there are three small and nearby gardens – tells a different story and has a different group of plants that we grow in them. So I wanted to work and get acquainted in every backyard garden. I was trying to shape my path here, and I was trying to shape myself into something useful.
Cuxa Cloister by Met Closters. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
What were the challenges of becoming a gardener you wanted to be?
There is this idea of not wanting to leave a trail. This is how I like to see gardens. You want to have a hand in them, but you never want to show that, right? It should look effortless.
That was the main thing, but I was given a lot of room to grow. When Dire Dawa left, I worked under Caleb Leach, and he was very talented. He was a real plant man. Later I worked with him, relied on my gardening skills, and tried not to take everything too seriously. At the end of the day, there are only plants. They are very forgiving.
So all of this led me to where I am now as the manager, which seems ridiculous. And now I have hired two wonderful new gardeners and they are good.
When you say you want to make beautiful gardens, what does this mean for you?
We have plants in the ornamental garden and in the garden, and to me, the beauty is really fragrant. It is very important that there are fragrant flowers that people can meet. In the ornamental garden, I always talk about the heritage of David Austin in English. Lavender is everywhere.
It is also about having beautiful flowers during the season. That starts with the display of our bulb that blooms in early spring. It’s so beautiful. We have all these wonderful tulips, wonderful alliances, a crocodile explosion around that year. And of course daffodils. All favorites are there: Diantus, Foxgloves, Delphinium, Iris, Martagon Lilies, Astrania. We have all kinds of beautiful permanent plants there.
Chocolate Cosmos is one of my favorite scents. Beautiful flower shape, and a great contrast with the dark, rich, blood red type. And then we got good, silver leaves with Artemis.
Tray Closter. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
It all looks so beautiful.
That is why there are so many flowers on the floor and people are attracted to it. But in the spring the garden is very beautiful. We have a lot of other garden favorites out there, again, the fox gloves are fully blooming and Valerian and Wade are used for the famous blue dye.
And then the Tri-N-Bigore Garden is also magical. That was re-established five years ago and we are still going there. We planted many tulips, many crocuses, many irises, many dice. Adonis is amazing. There are so many spring flowering plants out there that they are inspiring. Unicorn Tapestries In the collection.
Holly Arch during the 2013 Met Cloisters Holiday Show. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
Is there anything in the collection other than Unicorn tapes that inspired you in your garden?
Yes. Undoubtedly, the A book of floral studiesIt was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We had to flip it over – they didn’t really touch the pages – but our technician flipped over the pages. It looks like a small field guide of flowers that have been beautifully studied, they can be easily identified. For me, that is the only real motivation. It sounds timeless. These plants are still here and we can still find all these beauty and inspiration in the same things.
You will find that we grow every flower [the book]. So “What was this artist thinking about? And where did you find these plants?” I like to think. We had some herbs. [books on natural remedies] The ones that are on display, and those that are amazing to pass on. A way to express a beautiful allium root. You can take that out of the garden, and it looks exactly like that.
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Art Museum.
What is a typical day for you and your team today?
We start at eight o’clock. We have lots of herbs, citrus and myrtles, bay laurel, and many more. All of that has been taken in. This year’s work will focus on plant care and making sure everything is well watered, with no yellow leaves. We call that morning round between 8 and 10, preparing everything for the public.
Then we do a walk through the gardens. Right now, we are doing our biggest plant reduction. Many repairs are being made for the winter, cutting back all the permanent plants. We have now installed 15,000 light bulbs. We are preparing the beds for that, we will install the ones inside and make sure everything is in place.
I even like to clean the garden. I feel very important. Of course, they fall off and the leaves begin to fall off. But again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes.
Then we will get ready for our holiday decorations that will start in the next few days. And then when we come back from Thanksgiving, we see a lot of herbs: lots of cyclamen, rosemary, hellebore, fragrant jasmine. We just want to fill that gallery space with pottery.
Then we do the big planting with bows, and we use fresh English holi, fresh apples, fresh ivy and hazelnuts. That will be released in mid-December, which is exciting. We are picking and washing weeds, and we are lovingly caring for apples and all sorts of over and over again.
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