Earlier this summer, Jackie Blume joined the Brandywine Conservancy’s Penguin Court staff as a seasonal employee. During her time at Penguin Court, Jackie has assisted with the care of the greenhouse, conservatory, and production garden plants; as well as the propagation of native plants and maintenance of the many plant beds on the property. In the interview below, Jackie discusses her new role, what aspects of her schooling have been most beneficial to her work, and what she’s been learning while at Penguin Court.
“I started working at the Brandywine Conservancy’s Penguin Court in June as a seasonal employee and quickly realized it was an opportunity that aligned with my skills and interests. I studied Horticulture at Penn State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2018. During the three years I was in school, I packed my schedule with as many electives as time would allow, including independent study courses dealing with biological control and orchid care. Those two one-credit classes were easily some of the most enjoyable and informative classes I had. I did several semesters working with the Penn State greenhouse manager implementing the school’s biological pest control program. I feel that my understanding of parasitoid and predatory insects and organisms for pest control is one of my best assets that I gained during my schooling. Additionally, I was responsible for caring for Penn State’s orchid collection for a year. Over time, orchids have grown to be my favorite plants, so I was very happy to find that Penguin Court’s conservatory has dozens of orchids.
Although my schooling was focused at times less on ecology and more on production, at Penguin Court I am realizing how much native and pollinator habitat restoration appeals to me. Before and during college, I worked for a cut flower farm for years, and, while I loved it, I could feel it was not the most sustainable for the environment. The beauty of what we produced and the happiness of our customers purchasing bouquets was rewarding, but now I am realizing the beauty and intrigue of the visiting pollinators that these plants will help see to maturity. Although I am still a sucker for cut flower production, I am happy to have worked with native plants firsthand to see all the life that flourishes around them. Working with Penguin Court’s resident horticulturalist Kevin Guerrier, I have learned about many different Pennsylvania native species that I hope to grow not only in my own backyard, but also anywhere I am employed in the future. This experience at Penguin Court has really shown me the importance of native plants. As a result, I’m also now very interested in the nutritional quality of both natives and hybrids, and how they affect the insects around them.
As my interests in all things horticulture continue to grow stronger, I am excited to learn more about areas of the profession that I am not as familiar with. Even as a temporary employee at Penguin Court, it has been a very rewarding and exciting experience.”
The Brandywine Conservancy’s Penguin Court and Thomas Road Farm, located in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania, comprise a stunning preserve. Bequeathed to the Brandywine in 2015 by Mr. Richard M. Scaife, these properties total 1,089 acres of forests, meadows and open space, along with a spring-fed reservoir and pond, a 7,000 square-foot conservatory, and a 3,700 square-foot greenhouse in Westmoreland County. Staff care for the grounds; grow native plants for wildlife habitat, biodiversity, restoration and education projects; and offer programming to support education, best management practices and the protection of the surrounding ecosystem. Named for the 10 penguins that lived on this former family estate, Penguin Court seeks to protect and manage the land, water, cultural and natural resources of this preserve to advance education, research and community engagement.