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Sept-Oct 2009

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On the Job: Chris Upton, Horticulturalist for the National Arboretum

Chris Upton studied botany at the University of Maryland and worked as a nursery horticulturalist and landscaper for Senator Rockefeller before he became the horticulturalist for the Asian Collections at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., where he has worked for 18 years. Upton battles the elements on a daily basis while maintaining the plantings, collecting new species, handling plant propagation, and overseeing the daily activities of the gardeners.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I’m a botanist, and I’ve done gardening for many years. I love plants, so I’ve always tried to work with the most interesting plants at the National Arboretum. I do the Asian Collections now, and the Asian Collections regularly sends people on trips to Korea, China, sometimes Japan, and Siberia recently.

Have you had any problems trying to grow plants from other regions here?
Sure we do, sometimes. We try to go to areas that have a similar climate, but at the same time, we like to push a little bit. There is some kind of warming going on here. Some of the places in western China where we collect from are a little bit warmer than here, and some of the places we’ve collected from in the Southeast [United States] are a bit warmer too. The Southeast is close to our own natives. The plants in Georgia and South Carolina and north Florida and Alabama, they’re plenty used to humidity, so they do pretty well here as long as it’s warm enough. 

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