Michelle Sutton

by Michelle Sutton

Carol Ann Harlos and Lyn Chimera have been frequent almanac co-writers in Upstate Gardeners’ Journal since 2008. Each lives in Erie County.

“The lupines are a mixture of some I grew indoors from seed anad two I received as presents. Baby lupines are adorable! I was afraid I would step on them or weed them out, so I put metal cloches over them until they got bigger. I know they are a short-lived perennial, so one day I will have to repeat the process.” Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Did you grow up gardening with family? If not, when did it grab you?

Harlos: I had no interest in gardening when I was growing up. However, when I majored in in biology in college, that opened my eyes to the plant world. I taught biology for five years before taking time off for my children. That’s when the gardening bug really got hold of me. I did projects with our three daughters, growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I was hooked!

Chimera: My family had two conservation farms growing up, so I developed an appreciation for nature, which led to my interest in native plants. Our family gardening was planting trees and putting in ponds for wildlife, although we always had a few tomato plants and my mother loved her small perennial garden. Gardening really grabbed me when I was married and had a place of my own. I was struggling to be successful and learning through my mistakes as we all do.

How did you meet each other and become co-writers of the UGJ almanac?

Chimera: Carol Ann was my mentor when I first became a Master Gardener in 2005. We were Hotline partners; I learned so much from her and still do. We share a love of nature, insects, and learning. She also encouraged me to write, which I had always wanted to do but was afraid to try. For the almanac, generally I do a draft and then Carol Ann adds to it and we work it out together over email.

Cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) in Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

How has UGJ influenced you over the years?

Harlos: I’ve been reading UGJ for a long time. I frequently take copies of the magazine with me when I give talks because the information is timely, entertaining, and informative.

Chimera: Like many people, I picked up the first issue free at some gardening event. I was impressed with the quality of the information and the fact that it was local. It was the first garden magazine I subscribed to and honestly I can’t even remember how long ago it was. Over the years I have learned to rely on it to keep abreast of what is happening in our region.

What other publications do you write for?

Harlos: I write a monthly column for Forever Young, which is Western New York’s oldest and only full-color senior publication, with both print (40,000 copies a month) and online editions. [You can see several dozen of Carol Ann’s Forever Young columns by searching her name at buffalospree.com.] I’m also a frequent contributor to The Herbarist and The Essential Herbal magazines; Iwrite a monthly newsletter for Herb Gardeners of the Niagara Frontier; and I’m the editor and a writer for the monthly Erie County Master Gardener News. One of these days I hope to compile my writings into a book.

Chimera: In addition to UGJ, I write for After 50, Figure 8 (the Federated Garden Club publication), the Erie County Master Gardener News, and monthly garden tips for clients and people on my mailing list.

Snapshot from Chimera’s garden. Photo by Lyn Chimera

Apart from writing, what do you enjoy doing most?

Harlos: I love, love to teach! I am a backyard beekeeper and do many talks on bees as well as herbs, insects, plant diseases, autumn gardening, bulbs, downsizing the garden, living with deer, garden botany, garden Rx, garden ideas for the classroom, houseplants, hydrangeas, making more plants, pollinator gardens, and tillandsias. I love giving talks (not lectures!) because there is so much joy interacting with people. I have a great time and so do my audiences. I go anywhere I am asked because it is so much fun. I have given talks out-of-state several times.

Chimera: After retiring from teaching I became a Master Gardener (MG). Working the Hotline was and still is my favorite part of being an MG. In doing that, I saw how many people had garden-related questions and just needed some guidance, so I started a garden consulting business called Lessons from Nature (lessonsfromnature.biz). Basically, I make house calls and coach folks on everything from groundcover and weed ID to pruning, always stressing an ecological approach … helping people realize gardening is a natural process, not a battle.

Another part of my business is giving presentations to groups, which I love. Once a teacher always a teacher. I specialize in native plants and ecological and sustainable approaches to gardening but have more than twenty topics and am always developing new ones based on requests. I also teach for MG programs and present at Plantasia and other gardening events, usually within the WNY area.

In your own gardens, what are your passions and priorities?

Harlos: I am a generalist. I want to grow everything, so I end up planting vegetables in between perennials and annuals. I love working in the garden and hearing and seeing honeybees (which I swear are mine) and other pollinators buzzing about and going from flower to flower. I also feed birds (nine feeders).

Chimera: My goal in gardening is always supporting nature. I have more than 100 varieties of native plants in my little half-acre village lot. However, I have many nonnatives that are productive as well, so I’m not a total natives snob. Not using pesticides or herbicides is one of the best and easiest ways we can help nature. My gardens have been chemical-free for about twenty-five years—and the results are amazing.

What are your favorite horticulture resources?  

Harlos: I favor the writings of Sally Cunningham, who taught me and encouraged me to give talks. I love A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger, The Secret Life of Plants by Tompkins and Bird, and Fruit Key and Twig Key to Trees and Shrubs by William Harlow, my go-to book for identification since college.

Chimera: Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy was a real eye-opener for me as to the importance of planting to support beneficial insects, the basis of the food chain for birds and other creatures.

Another favorite is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. You will never look at a tree in the same way again after reading this book.

Harlos’s garden in the fall, including fruitful crabapple tree in background, rose bush, pineapple sage, dahlias, papyrus, and more. Photo by Carol Ann Harlos

Who are your favorite local, regional, national, or international horticulture personalities?

Harlos: Sally Cunningham, Jane L. Taylor, Eleanor Perenyi, Fredrick Law Olmsted, and Tracy DiSabato-Aust.

Chimera: Locally, Sally Cunningham has been a mentor and does so much to educate the public about gardening and good horticultural practices. On a national level, Doug Tallamy is always wonderful.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Harlos: I also love growing indoor plants, plant propagation, seed starting, growing orchids (I have only fifteen to date), and hydroponics (aerogardens).

Chimera: I have enjoyed writing the almanac for UGJ. It keeps me on my toes and makes me more aware of what I should be doing when.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


story by Michelle Sutton

Berna Ticonchuk coordinates the horticulture program at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) and teaches the Introduction to Horticulture, Tree Culture and Maintenance,  Plant Propagation, and Certified Applicator Training courses. Prior to coming to FLCC in 2002, Ticonchuk had a 20-year career in public gardens in Rochester and Canandaigua. She brings a wealth of knowledge and professional connections to her FLCC students and to her service on the City of Canandaigua Tree Advisory Board and Sonnenberg Gardens Education Committee.

Ticonchuk with her dog, Jack
Photo courtesy Berna Ticonchuk

What were your connections to plants as a child?
Ticonchuk: I grew up in Owego on the family Christmas tree farm; it’s not in operation anymore, but my sister owns a parcel of the property. Remnant trees we planted there as kids 45 to 50 years are now 50 to 60 feet tall and forming a beautiful forest. In addition to running the tree farm, my father was what was then called a “tree surgeon.” I worked for him in the summers and enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to have a career outdoors.

What was your educational journey?
Ticonchuk: I started with my associate’s degree in what was then called the Ornamental Horticulture program at FLCC, back when FLCC was known as Community College of the Finger Lakes. Eventually I got a bachelor’s degree in plant science from Empire State College.

At FLCC, Dr. Ed Moberg was a hugely important advisor to me. He was an agronomist PhD who came from Penn State to FLCC to start the College’s first horticulture program with Dr. Dan Marion. Ed’s support and professional credentials helped me plan my own future versus my father planning it for me (he wanted me to come back and help him with the Christmas tree farm).

As a student, I was really taken with the subject matter and hands-on element of courses like tree maintenance. I learned a great deal about teaching styles and how to manage a classroom from observing my instructors. For instance, I took a field ornithology course with Frank Smith, who had a relaxed, informal way of teaching students; while Bruce Gilman, in his field botany class, was more formal. When I began to teach years later at FLCC, former department chair John VanNiel gave me many opportunities and very helpful constructive criticism. My mentor and dear friend Dr. Jana Lamboy taught me many things about the world of plant science as well as about life in general.

Ticonchuk’s mentor and dear friend, plant pathologistmDr. Jana Lamboy,nretired in 2011 from teaching at FLCC. Photo Courtesy FLCC
FLCC Main Campus in bloom last July; annuals in foreground are verbena ‘Scarlet Star’ from the Superbena series. Photo courtesy FLCC

What was your career trajectory leading up to FLCC?
Ticonchuk: After graduating I worked a series of jobs I hated before I landed on something I loved. I worked briefly for a landscaper, I worked at a beet factory in the evenings doing quality control, and I pruned grapevines in the coldest winter I could remember—oh my goodness, it was so cold. Mercifully, the following spring I got hired at Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, where I worked happily for ten years, from 1981 to 1991. I started as a senior gardener and ended up being assistant horticulturist and supervising a seasonal crew while still weeding and planting and mowing all the large areas.

In the late 1980s my boss and mentor at Sonnenberg, head horticulturist Ginny Schirer, sent me to a tree academy held at George Eastman House (now called Eastman Museum). We learned tree physiology, climbing, and pruning—using the mature trees on the property for climbing practice—from world-class expert Dennis Ryan. After I became certified as a climber, I got more into the tree management side of things at Sonnenberg, including conducting a tree inventory.

Sonnenberg was so rewarding, but the pay was nominal and there was no health care coverage. I worked briefly in the grounds department at Nazareth College and brushed up on my knowledge and skills by taking the Master Gardener (MG) program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Monroe County. It was there I met MG coordinator Pam Hyman, whose path I’d cross many times over the years. She was an important mentor and colleague to me and to so many people, and her untimely death in 2008 from lymphoma was a real loss to all who knew her. At FLCC we honored her posthumously, in 2009, with the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award.

As part of my MG training, I did my community volunteer hours at Eastman Museum. I was offered a job by the very knowledgeable then-landscape curator Deirdre Cunningham as the groundskeeper and kept that position for ten years, working closely with a treasured colleague, then-head gardener Andy Joss. It was wonderful to be working among the mature trees that I once climbed in the tree academy, and I really enjoy historic horticulture. One of my favorite aspects of my time there was working with volunteers, where I got to hone some of my teaching/instruction skills.

Ten years into my work at Eastman House/Museum, Andy brought in a job announcement to show me for a conservation/horticulture technician position at FLCC. It was an incredible match. I had every qualification—even boat-handling skills—except for radio telemetry (think collaring bears). I applied for the position and was hired in 2002 and have been very happy there advising students, teaching, running the greenhouse, coordinating the horticulture program, and more.

How has your student population changed over the years?
Ticonchuk: The program’s students are majority nontraditional—age 25 to 55, sometimes up to 65. That is a big change I’ve seen over time. I really enjoy the older students—they are so motivated and interested—but I would love to also see more young people studying horticulture. Partly the number of traditional-age students is down because the over-all population of that age group is declining; partly I believe young adults are less interested in\ manual labor than they used to be.

What do you want to be sure folks know about FLCC’s horticulture program?
Ticonchuk: This is an excellent plant science–based horticulture program, with strong environmental themes (for instance, Environmental Science and Ecology are required courses). There are hands-on opportunities for sure, but it’s also rock-solid with the science. One of the strengths of our program is the deep and longstanding connection we have to green industry professionals around the State who we can put students in contact with. That professional networking, along with keeping up with urban forestry research and practice, are the main reasons I go to the annual New York ReLeaf Conference and to regional ReLeaf events.

We have turned students on to a wide array of careers; often, what students come in planning to do changes as they are exposed to more facets of horticulture. For instance, a person could come to the program thinking they want to be a landscape designer, but graduate and start a lavender farm. Or someone will come thinking they want to do plant propagation or hydroponics but leave really juiced about plant pathology and go on to get degrees in that.

I also want to highlight that our full-time horticulture faculty, Dr. Shawn Kenaley, is superb. He started teaching here last year and has been a huge addition to our program. His breadth of knowledge is impressive. He’s a forest pathologist who has taught all ages about just about every facet of horticulture, and he’s down-to-earth and approachable. Having worked at Cornell as a research technician earlier in his career and more recently as a post-doctoral associate, he has strong Cornell connections that our students can benefit from in terms of knowledge, advising, and networking.

Another thing that I would like people to know is that we have recently started a three-course cannabis track as a result of student and societal demand. Our provost, Jonathan Keiser, suggested it and horticulture department chair John Foust encouraged us to create it. I think it will be in demand and will help keep our horticulture program populated.

What’s a trend in arboriculture you feel especially good about? What’s been a surprise?
Ticonchuk: I’m very interested in how research entities like the Morton Arboretum are monitoring trees to see how climate change is affecting them. The level of sophistication of the instrumentation is truly amazing, including the use of drones to capture images way up in the tree canopy. 

I’m pleased and actually quite surprised that electric chainsaws have become so prevalent in the arboriculture industry. Running a noisy gas-powered chainsaw has historically been considered a macho enterprise, but I see that arborists are switching to the quieter electric ones. I think that’s a smart move on so many levels.

Lespedeza thunbergii hedge outside Berna and Beth’s home. Photo courtesy Berna Ticonchuk

Do you garden at home?
Yes, indeed—I have to, for my sanity. I’m into vegetable gardening and my wife Beth and I do home canning and freezing. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with peppers. I also love to grow older varieties of ornamental plants. For instance, on the bank behind our house, I planted nine Vanhoutte spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) seven years ago, and they’ve now fully covered the bank. Sally Jean Cunningham turned me on to bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) that has beautiful fuchsia pea-family flowers and tolerates road salt. I have a 15-foot hedgerow of it by the road and it thrives there as a subshrub, dying back to the ground in the winter.

Anything else you want to share?
Ticonchuk: We have a two-year-old dog named Jack who is three quarters mini-Poodle and one quarter Shih Tzu and a real character. We never thought we’d have a little dog—we always had big dogs, like German Shepherd mixes—but we are crazy about Jack.

The FLCC A.A.S. in Horticulture Curriculum

Program Core
• AGR 100 Soil Science
• BIO/CON 103 Environmental Science
• BIO 221/CON 202 Principles of Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology
• BIO 251 Plant Structure and Function
• HRT 110 Introduction to Horticulture
• HRT 150 Herbaceous Plant Materials
• HRT 151 Woody Plant Materials
• HRT 220 Field Experiences in Horticulture
• HRT 260 Applied Plant Pathology with Integrated Pest Management
• HRT 280 Field Entomology with Integrated Pest Management

General Education
• BIO 121 General Biology I OR BIO 125 Foundations of Life Science
• CSC 135 Core Excel
• ENG 101 Composition I
• ENG 103 Composition II
• MAT 145 Survey of Functions I
• 3 credits SUNY General Education approved course in Basic Communication: Oral
• 3 credits SUNY General Education approved course in American History, Western Civilization OR Other World Civilization
• 3 credits SUNY General Education approved course in Social Science

Approved Electives
Choose 8 credits from the following courses:
• CON 235 Wetland Science and Practice
• GIS 130 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
• GIS 227 Applications of Global Positioning Systems
• HRT 111 Tree Culture and Maintenance
• HRT 130 Introduction to Floriculture
• HRT 131 Floral Design
• HRT 135 Regulations of Cannabis Cultivation
• HRT 160 Unique Horticulture Facilities
• HRT 201 Landscape Design I
• HRT 202 Landscape Construction and Maintenance
• HRT 203 Turf Management
• HRT 204 Plant Propagation and Nursery Management
• HRT 210 Landscape Design II
• HRT 221 Horticulture Topics I
• HRT 222 Horticulture Topics II
• HRT 223 Horticulture Topics III
• HRT 230 Certified Applicator Training
• HRT 235 Cannabis: Biology to Industrial Application
• HRT 236 Cannabis Cultivation
• VIT 100 Introduction to Wines and Vines

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.


story by Michelle Sutton; photos courtesy Ellen Krzemien unless noted

Sunrise over the flower fields

For weeks after my interview with Ellen Krzemien (pronounced CRAZE-men), the beautiful produce I bought from her and her husband Jon stayed crisp in my fridge. Growing vegetables with her father’s expert guidance, The Krzemiens are helping to preserve their century-old family farm in the village of Springville, southeast of Buffalo. In recent years, Krzemien’s flowers and her already-iconic Flower Stand have emerged as a key resource for the farm as well.  

In 2007, Krzemien moved back to the family farm to help her parents. Always interested in home décor, she formed the Home Staging Source, one of the few companies of its kind in western New York. She prepared occupied homes for sale by working with the homeowners on simplifying and beautifying their décor so that potential homebuyers could better see possibilities for themselves. In the early years of the business, she would also pull from her own warehouse of furniture, accents, and art to stage vacant homes on the market. In the off-season, she still does occupied home staging, but she let go of the vacant home staging, which proved too labor-intensive to be profitable.  

The Flower Stand’s logo with an ethereal view on to the flower fields

 An avid gardener since childhood, Krzemien began growing flowers on the family farm to supply her home staging business. “Eventually I started putting bouquets out on the veggie stand and found they sold out quickly,” she says. “Then I was asked to provide flowers for weddings and other events; that evolved into having a U-Pick, which we keep expanding, and beginning in 2017, we started offering CSA flower subscriptions.” A blog post about the Flower Stand appeared on stepoutbuffalo.com in 2018 and went viral, reaching more than 10,000 readers. “Things really blew up after that,” she says. 

Reliable gomphrena blooms well into fall
Daucus carota ‘Dara’ is Queen Anne’s lace, spun out into several colors

So successful has Krzemien’s enterprise been that last fall she was awarded a $25K Ignite Buffalo grant, part of a regional million-dollar Facebook Community Boost grant. As part of the competition, Krzemien presented her business plan (and showed off jugs of her flowers) to the grants panel and community members. She’s using the majority of the money to purchase a flower truck so that she can sell flowers at WNY markets, festivals, and other events and to make deliveries to CSA members and other customers.  

Running a CSA serves a practical purpose for every type of grower: subscriptions are purchased in the winter months, funding the acquisition of seeds and supplies at the time they are needed. “It also helps greatly with planning and infrastructure to know in advance how much income you’ll have coming in,” says Krzemien, a Master Gardener with the Erie County Cornell Cooperative Extension. 

The plywood black bear, a perennial fixture at the back of the flower fields, gets a double-take from new visitors. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Krzemien says she enjoys the CSA and U-Pick sides of the business equally. The CSA is time-consuming in summer and fall in terms of making deliveries, while the U-Pick is labor intensive in the spring. “The U-Pick is up to one-and-a-half acres of flowers and every seedling is planted by hand, so that’s all we do for the month of May and well into June,” she says. “We do staggered plantings every three weeks of things like sunflowers, zinnias, and snapdragons. We also have two rows of perennials (including ornamental grasses), a few shrubs (mostly butterfly bushes), and one whole row of tuberous plants like dahlias that have to be dug up in the fall. The latest addition is 350 perennial lavender plants that will be ready for U-Pick in 2020.”  

Krzemien chooses to plow up the U-Pick field (minus the shrubs and perennials) entirely each spring, creating rows anew and reseeding grass in the aisles. “We like to have wide pathways so that the rows can be accessed by tractors for watering, wagons, strollers, and wheelchairs,” she says. “It’s important to me that this be a place families can come, take pictures, and have a relaxing time.” To that end, Krzemien has a free “Little Library” outpost, where grandparents can select a book to read to kids while their parents are cutting flowers.    

Krzemien is herself a grandmother to her daughter Jessica’s kids, Milana (5) and Luis (Tre) (3), who live nearby. Her daughter Jordan lives in Italy with her new husband. “In early June we went to Italy for their wedding,” Krzemien says. “For obvious reasons, Jordan assured me she would not pick a date in July or August,” she says, smiling. 

Krzemien working at dusk … (and past sunset!)

When poring through seed catalogs in January and February and ordering seeds, Krzemien tries to ensure a selection of annuals that, along with her perennials, will give her flowers from Mother’s Day all the way to Thanksgiving. Penstemon, red hot poker, peonies, delphinium, and yarrow shine in June for early season bouquets, while gomphrena, snapdragons, and rudbeckia are fall stars. “Little bluestem, if picked before seeds dry out and start dropping, is nice as a filler for a fall bouquet,” she says.   

In picking which selections to grow, she looks for good stem length (like tall zinnias instead of compact ones) and finds good options—except for mums. “I do wish I could find a mum that has a decent stem length, but I haven’t had luck with that,” she says. “Also, I make sure to trial things on a limited basis to be sure that their stems grow as described. Sometimes our microclimate doesn’t suit a plant that would grow in a nearby microclimate, or our soil isn’t just right.” 

Celebration of yellow

Weather in greater Buffalo can indeed be a challenge, and Krzemien is subject to the weather-related stress of any farmer. Her biggest challenge, however, is deer damage. “One year they ate the whole 200-foot row of sunflowers,” she says. “It was distressing not so much because of the cost of the seed, but because of the lost growing time.” Repellents tend to be too smelly for a U-Pick setting, and she hasn’t found the perfect fencing solution. “If I use a tall fence, it would absolutely detract from the charm and beauty people come here for—they take pictures of the gardens with the rolling land behind them,” she says. 

Krzemien is proud to be part of the resurgence of locally grown flowers. “I embrace the principles of the Slow Flower movement,” she says. The customers do, too. “They like coming here as a family and knowing they are supporting a local farmer. They understand that buying local flowers is helping Western NY agriculture as a whole. Plus, most people find that fresh local cut flowers are superior in terms of beauty and longevity.”  

Dark velvet pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea) is prized for both flower and seedpod. Photo by Michelle Sutton
Scabiosa stellata seedpods are popular with florists. Photo by Michelle Sutton.

Having done her own experiments with flower preservation, Krzemien is a bleach fan. “I know that might make some florists cringe, but of all the industry and home methods, I’ve found that the vase with a couple of drops of bleach has the longest-lasting, healthiest flowers.” (She recommends that folks recut the stems and change the water every third day at least.) 

Currently, Krzemien’s excited about the ornamental qualities of Nigella seed pods (“I have local florists come pick from me”); Daucus carota ‘Dara’ (produces white, burgundy, and pink Queen Anne’s lace flowers); lavender; geum; and Calla lily foliage. She grows all her own seedlings except the notoriously fussy Lisianthus, which she buys in plugs. If you visit The Flower Stand this fall or next season, you can talk flowers with her yourself. 

More info:

A Few of Krzemien’s Tips on Staging Your Home for Sale:
Landscape and Flowers
– You need to be able to see all or most the house. If you have overgrown trees and shrubs, they have to be tamed. Take down trees and shrubs that are blocking the windows or big ball shrubs that are no longer pleasing to the eye.  

– When using fresh flowers inside the home, stick with whites, browns, and greens—they tend to mesh best with peoples’ belongings and with wood and fabric. White flowers are best to prevent clashing with the surroundings. If you choose a yellow daffodil or something colorful, stick it with lots of earthy green foliage and/or brown grasses or seedpods. 

– For outside curb appeal, whether you do a container planting depends on the house. If you have a big porch, you might want two pots flanking the entry. However, there’s a hierarchy of needs that comes first before containers: are the outdoor lights clean? Is the flag tattered? Is the doormat new and porch swept? Address these first, and then see if containers will enhance the entrance or not.

Michelle Sutton is a horticulturist, writer, and editor.