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Kayla Higgins soars to new heights at Longwood

Kennett Square, PA – Not many high school students spent thesummer waist-deep in water lilies, scaling trees with professioKayla Higginsnal arboristsand pruning the world-renowned grounds of Longwood Gardens but that is exactlyhow Kayla Higgins put her green thumb to work these past three months.


A rising junior from Oxford Area School District studyinghorticulture at the Chester County Technical College High School (TCHS), participatedin the eight-week High School Summer Internship Program (HSSIP) at LongwoodGardens, an opportunity that was anything but garden-variety. 


On August 13, Higgins and eight other exceptionalhorticultural students from area high schools were honored with a luncheon andan awards ceremony to celebrate the program’s culmination.


“There are two very distinct passions at Longwood Gardens:horticulture and education,” said Dr. Doug Needham, Education DepartmentHead.  “The high school summerinternship program is the living legacy of our founder, Pierre du Pont, and hiscommitment to education. It’s been a tremendous experience for us.”


Interns worked alongside Longwood staff members on arotating basis to learn gardening techniques for outdoor and indoor displaysand in the Conservatory, Longwood’s premier greenhouse.  Each week featured a different experience, from maintainingthe 600 foot-long flower garden walk to completing a nature trail outreachproject at a local elementary school, and everywhere in between. Field trips toNew York City’s High Line and Wave Hill gardens along with a visit toWinterthur, famed estate of Pierre du Pont’s cousin, were also on the agenda.  


“Our mission is to instill professionalism in the up andcoming youth of the horticultural industry,” explained Dr. Brian Trader,coordinator of domestic and international studies. “We gave them a blank slateand said this is your opportunity to utilize Longwood’s resources to your bestability.”


Ending up at Longwood Gardens was an unexpected turn ofevents for Higgins, who enrolled in the horticulture program at TCHS as asophomore only because her first choice – cosmetology – was full. In fact,before last year, the only garden she had ever worked in had ended in what she describesas a “bitter disappointment.”


But after a rewarding year in the TCHS horticulture classand an eye-opening summer internship at Longwood, Higgins just might bepermanently trading in her scissors for gardening shears. 


“I originally wanted to work with beauty in school butinstead I got the opportunity to work with it in a natural setting,” she notedabout her time at Longwood. “The gardens here are lovely and it was really funto meet the staff and make connections.”


Horticulture is the study and art of plants, and Higginssays it is the art component that won her over to the field. 


“I love working with flowers andbringing out their beauty by simply arranging them in a certain way. When Ilook at a plant, I am looking for artistic inspiration,”  she said.


Higgins has been recognized for her inventive skill in a variety ofvenues, winning best in show at the Longwood Veggie Critters display last falland at the Unionville-Chadds Ford Fair for her landscape-in-a-box, and placingsecond in the SkillsUSA competition for floral arrangements.


Though it is too early to discuss the specifics of herfuture career, Higgins plans to apply for a seasonal position at Longwood andis not ruling out its two-year Professional Gardener Program.


The Horticulture and LandscapeGardening program at TCHS provides students with instruction in plantidentification, flower arrangement, basic greenhouse operations and gardenmaintenance.  In addition, studentsinteract with local industry, not the least of which is Longwood Gardens. 


“Having a world-renowned garden such as Longwoodinvolved in our horticulture program, from our curricular development tointernships to educational classes, gives us amazing opportunities few programshave,” said Heidi Militana, horticulture instructor at TCHS. 


For more information on the Horticulture and Landscape Gardeningprogram or any of the programs at the Chester County Technical College HighSchool, please visit www.technicalcollegehighschool.org or email admissions@cciu.org.


Applications are being accepted for September enrollment.


Photo captionKayla Higgins got a bird’s eye view ofthe horticulture industry during her eight-week internship at Longwood Gardensthis summer.  Higgins is a risingjunior at the Chester County Technical College High School majoringhorticulture. Scaling and pruning trees with professional arborists was justone of the many jobs Higgins took on with enthusiasm.