In Forestry, trailblazing is the act of cutting a new path in a forest for hikers to use. Melinda Myers has blazed her own trail in the world of horticulture, leading the way for more women to follow her example in a field traditionally employing men.
Now Myers is president and CEO of Melinda Myers, LLC. The company consists of Myers, two full-time employees and a part-time employee. She is an author, lecturer and business executive featured in many magazines, TV shows and radio programs. She has a master’s in horticulture, which is the science, technology and business of plant cultivation for human use, and is a certified arborist.
“The interesting thing is when I went through college [during the late 1980s], about 50 percent of my class was composed of women, but when you went out into the field, very few women survived the very male-dominated field. The promotions didn’t typically happy for women,” she said.
In 1986, Myers was the first female agricultural agent to earn tenure with the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, and in 2012, she was the first woman inducted into the Wisconsin Green Industry Federation Hall of Fame.
“Part of what was driving me was being able to make some inroads for myself professionally and others as well,” she said.
Myers said it is more common to see women in the field today; however, there are still hurdles.
“I think having children is a challenge for any woman in any profession. I think it’s better now that there’s a better understanding, [but] I still think it’s a challenge trying to make it happen. There’s been some changes. There’s still some opportunities for us to help each other along the way – share what we’ve learned, what worked for us,” she said.
Myers noted that she had worked with many men that were both helpful and kind. She cited her sense of humor as a tool to deal with the adversity she faced. She also displayed determination. She made a habit to attend meetings that she should have participated in, but did not receive an invitation to take part.
“I have core values and I think that’s probably how I based my decisions. [It wasn’t] so much of in 20 years I want to be here, but is this opportunity meeting my core values and is it meeting my professional goal of educating, inspiring and helping people be successful whether it’s a job in horticulture, or it’s a garden in their backyard or just bringing joy,” she said.
Myers has faced challenges along the way. After 20 years, her weekly radio show was canceled.
“I do miss it, but it forced me to do something else. I didn’t think it was a setback, I thought it was an opportunity. Everybody has setbacks, but I think it’s how you react to them. Is it a challenge, an opportunity?”
She now hosts a podcast called “Melinda’s Garden Moments.”
Myers had a love of the outdoors from childhood. Hiking through woods on her grandmother’s farm is one of her favorite memories.
“Just the freedom of being outside and looking at the beautiful flowers was so stimulating. It made me want to be an artist. I think my roots called to me when I took my tree and shrub [identification] class and I got outside [and] thought, ‘OK this is where I want to be.’”
Myers described her ideal day, saying, “A half a day undisturbed in my garden is ideal; just touching the earth and digging; being surrounded by nature. At the end of the day to look at what you’ve accomplished [is satisfying], but the process for me is just as much a reward as the end product. I love to start my day [in the garden].”
Myers also has many future goals for her company, including the publications of an e-book that teachers others how to build their own landscape and to begin an online education series. She would also like to create what she called “learning gardens” on her home property in Wisconsin that she shares with her fiancé Pete. She’s also toying with the idea of writing a blog.
Myers also plans to continue hosting the Women in Horticulture Conference she began a few years ago. “Men network all the time. Women need the opportunity to come together,” she added.
She will also continue to make time for family by spending time with her grandchildren, Mya, 6, and Sammy, 3. “It’s a great gig. They’re wonderful. You still worry, but nothing like when you’re the parent. You can be the fun one and you have a little more space to enjoy the moment,” she said.
Even with her various personal and professional responsibilities, Myers still makes time for another passion: community service. She has taken part in projects such as Plant-A-Row for the Hungry/Harvest 4 the Hungry, urban greening activities, Arbor Day awareness and serving as a consultant to community beautification groups.
“I want to leave the world a better place. We all have something to share. We all have a lot to share and if you can find the right venue, I think that’s the greatest gift you can give anybody – sharing what you’ve learned,” she said.