Martha Keen, whose favorite plant is the “funny looking” spineless prickly pear (Opuntia ellisian), is Wyck’s new Horticulturist and Landscape Manager. Growing up, Keen lived on a CSA Farm in Nebraska where she surrounded by plants and agriculture, sparking an interest in horticulture. However, she never expected her passion would become a profession. In college, she studied the Classics at St. John’s College in Sante Fe, NM and worked the normal nine to five jobs after graduation. Eventually, Keen followed her heart and found work in horticulture.
The first eight years of her career she worked in Nebraska, New York and New Mexico gardening and cultivating her craft. Her first big job was at the Landscape Architect office for Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. At Prospect Park, she did historic and restoration work, similar to what she’s doing at Wyck. Keen decided to go back to school to fill in the gaps of her horticulture knowledge and receive formal training in her field. She was enrolled in the two year Professional Gardener Program at Longwood Gardens, which is only offered to 10 people per year, before coming to Wyck. At Longwood Gardens, she learned everything can always be better and when one approaches a garden, especially in the Spring, it can be difficult to prioritize what’s important. Keen noted that being the only horticulturist at Wyck can be difficult at times since everything she does needs to be done with great sensitivity towards the extensive history of Wyck as well as the integrity of the historic garden. Her main goal is to preserve the snapshot of a certain period in gardening.
Keen’s advice for young professionals starting their career is to be bold and reach out to people you admire, respect or want to emulate. She, like many others, recognizes that people will be flattered and willing to help young professionals if asked for their advice. Keen also advises that people should pursue a job that will make them happy. She said, “Be excited about your work because you spend so many hours of your life at work. It should be something you really believe in. Pursue your own bliss and happiness. Live to work instead of work to live.” Keen noted all her best decisions came from following her heart, even when it wasn’t the most sensible choice.
The favorite part of Keen’s job is the diversity in her work. While some might find tending to plants routine, Keen explained that every day is different -no two days are the same in the garden.
“Wyck is special because there’s always more to be discovered. Whether it’s the family’s history or written records that are still being unearthed, or plants coming up now that might have been doormat before. It’s an enchanting place with a wonderful history that really champions women,” Keen said.
Wyck is happy to have such a talented horticulturist as part of the family. Keen works every day in the garden and farm preserving the beauty and history of Wyck. While Martha is busy in the Garden most days, people will get to meet her on May 27 at the Celebrate the Roses Open House for her lecture, Language of Roses.
Article by Mia Cherrier, communications intern, La Salle University. May 4, 2017