Training a New Generation: Mount Auburn’s Horticulture Apprenticeship, 2020 Edition

September 1, 2020

Anna Moir, Grants & Communications Manager

Keeping a landscape like Mount Auburn beautiful and well-maintained does not happen without a skilled team of horticulture professionals. No matter the season, our staff are always putting their expertise to use figuring out the best ways to design, plant, and maintain the Cemetery with both aesthetics and sustainability in mind. We have therefore been highly concerned by recent trends of declining numbers of specialized training programs, especially at the university level, and fewer young professionals entering the field. Our response since 2014 has been to offer our own paid apprenticeship programs, supporting and training talented students and recent graduates seeking careers in public horticulture. Thanks to a group of generous donors, we have been able to expand the program up through to today.

From seasonal internships to year-long immersive experiences, our programs provide intensive practical experience across the different specialties within our Horticulture Department. This has been mutually-beneficial as our participants gain expertise in multiple aspects of our complex horticulture and landscape operations, while also bringing talent, enthusiasm, and fresh perspectives as they support our staff on their projects.

While the Covid-19 pandemic forced many changes to our workflow to ensure everyone’s safety, we were lucky to still be able to host two participants: Alex Wolfe, a recent graduate who had originally started as the 2018-2019 apprentice but extended to a second year, and Katelyn McVay, a student in the class of 2022 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked with us for the summer. As they get ready for a new semester and new opportunities, Alex and Katelyn sat down to reflect on their time here, and how it’s shaped them moving forward.

Alex Wolfe

Horticulture Apprentice Alex Wolfe

What brought her to Mount Auburn: I had worked in the field of horticulture for a bit in landscaping and greenhouse work, but wanted to learn more about some other sectors of horticulture. I saw that Mount Auburn had a rotating position where you get a taste of each of the departments in a year’s time. So I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to get a better idea of what I would like to specialize in moving forward.

Favorite experiences: I think my favorite projects and highlights of my time here have been when I’m involved in planting projects. The main project I worked on last year and am involved in again this year are plantings in Consecration Dell and the North Dell Meadows. It was a great leadership opportunity and learning experience working with a contractor and using an architectural planting plan. I also loved that the focus of that area involves the use of native plants.

Learning new skills: Since beginning work here, my plant identification skills have exponentially grown, and I have obtained my Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist certification. My favorite department that I worked in was Plant Records. I’ve gained a good bit of taxonomic knowledge, experience working with a database, and exposure to GIS work.

Favorite spot at Mount Auburn: My favorite place is easily the Dell. I loved working on projects for this area, and love that it’s focused on habitat restoration and planting natives.

Future plans: Working with native plants in the Dell got me thinking more about the ecological side of things and working in plant records with taxonomy really sparked my interest in systematics and evolution. This fall I am starting my Master’s in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England. I hope to carry out work with the overall goal of plant conservation, in whatever capacity that may be.

Katelyn McVay

Katelyn McVay

What brought her to Mount Auburn: Prior to applying here, Mount Auburn was my favorite natural space to visit while in Boston. I loved how Mount Auburn combined a rich history of landscapes and architecture with beautiful formal and natural gardens. I was extremely excited when I found out about the internship, and I was definitely drawn to the program due to the great opportunities, staff, and landscapes here.

Favorite experiences: I would have to say that one of my favorite projects that I worked on this summer was the garden in front of Story Chapel. My team and I planted everything in that area during my first week on the job, and it was a really exciting introduction to my position here. It was amazing to see how landscape architecture and design and horticulture came together to create something so beautiful and eye-catching in the front part of Mount Auburn.

Learning new skills: During this summer, besides working on the horticulture team, I also spent some time working at the greenhouse. While working there, I was introduced to a variety of plant propagation techniques. Prior to this experience, I didn’t fully understand how interesting and creative plant propagation could be. This learning experience at the greenhouse taught me how cool plants can be and skills that I’ll be able to use on my own plants and in my classes.

Favorite spot at Mount Auburn: My favorite place at Mount Auburn has to be Willow Pond. The scenery around that area is so peaceful, and it’s a place where I often found myself connecting with nature the most. Particularly, I really admire the tree selection and placement around Willow Pond and the sculpture and seating area on top of the hill.

Future plans: I plan to hopefully pursue a graduate degree in the plant sciences or in landscape architecture. This summer really helped me to discover my passion for plants and landscapes, and the professional and personal skills I have learned over the summer have reinforced my academic and career goals. I had such an amazing time here, and I’m so fortunate that Mount Auburn allowed me to pursue my passions and taught me how to apply the skills I learn in the classroom to the real world. For more information, please contact Jenny Gilbert at

About the Author: Anna Moir

Grants & Communications Manager View all posts by Anna Moir →

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