MEET YOUR 2024 RAINTREE PLANT AMBASSADORS!
Meet your 2024 Raintree Plant Ambassadors!
Wondering who or what a Plant Ambassador is? This year, Raintree is introducing a group of experienced growers who are passionate about helping you find success with your growing projects. We recognize that growing questions vary significantly from region to region, and we want you to have access to the support and horticultural resources needed to help your plants thrive. This is why we have spent the last several months vetting and training an incredible group of growers with years of experience growing in their regions.
Not sure what blueberry varietals do best in your area? Looking for help to remedy a pest or fungal issue in your orchard? Trying to plan out your Food Forest? Our Plant Ambassadors are here to help! Below is a list of our Plant Ambassadors and their designated regions. You can reach out and ask your Plant Ambassador here on our helpful "Ask My Plant Ambassador" contact form found on our Help Center page.
Not sure who to talk to or have a more in-depth question you need support with? As always, Laura Sweany, our Staff Horticulturist, is here to offer guidance. You can schedule a Horticulture Consultation with Laura anytime. Click here to schedule your consultation today!
Look for your region represented below to locate your Plant Ambassador(s) and find out more about their growing passions and experience by reading their bio.
Laura Sweany (Staff Horticulturist)
You may recognize Laura as the host of our Raintree YouTube channel and Staff Horticulturist. Many of our customers have come to love and trust the helpful guidance Laura offers across a broad range of horticultural topics and as a native PNW resident, Laura has a lot of experience to offer our PNW growers. If you are located in WA or OR, Laura is your go-to! Be sure to check out the long list of helpful "How To Do It" videos on our YouTube channel to see if some of your questions might already be answered.
Kelly started growing plants when she was 12 years old, when her mother helped her grow sunflowers from seeds - this sparked a fascination with plants, and she's been growing things in one way or another ever since. Kelly resides in Minnesota with her spouse, two small kids, dogs, and chickens and is a student in the Permaculture Design Certificate program through Verge Permaculture, focusing on cold-climate strategies.
Her current gardening project is an extensive food forest in her suburban front yard, including a mini orchard, mushroom garden, hazelnuts, wine vineyard, and perennial vegetables. In the future she plans to keep bees, and grow the majority of her family's food!
At home, Melinda is an avid canner of whatever she can pull out of her gardens and has dabbled in making fruit wines with atypical fruits such as pear, apple, cherry, and tomato. When not working or spending time in her garden she is enjoying her family, children, and pets.
Helen grew up in the mountains of NW Georgia and while she lived there for over 40 years, she has been farming in SW Virginia for the last 20. She has always loved growing things - including kids, cows, and plants! A mother of two (and a grandmother of one), Helen now raises Red Angus cattle and has a thriving greenhouse business where she raises annuals, hanging baskets, and vegetable starts for her local community. As you would expect, Helen has an orchard with many varieties of fruit trees which she loves to can, freeze, or dehydrate from!
Diane, our plant lover from Morristown, TN, has been growing edibles and ornamentals for over 40 years. In that time Diane has worked with the numerous and variable soil and climate conditions offered by the east Tennessee area, and has gained valuable experience with the challenges and benefits that they present - all interesting, none perfect. Diane is passionate about sharing her knowledge, and many times her plants, with other people.
Currently, she is exploring growing Chilean Guava as an outdoor plant during the growing season, and overwintering it in the garage during the winter months - enjoying the small glossy foliage and the leaves that can be made into tea while waiting on fruit (and that in itself is exciting!). Diane also has three different varieties of figs and a Sugar Cane jujube, which is delicious!
Laurie is a backyard gardener in Salt Lake Valley in Utah, where she grows a veggie garden each year, and is always looking for ways to fit in more fruit trees and berry bushes. Her favorite plant? There are too many to name! Here are just a few she can't resist sharing: Concord grape, jostaberry, black currant, Nanking cherry, and Columnar apples. Her goal is to grow as much food as she can in her suburban backyard. She’s found some plants that love her mountain west location and a few that have struggled. She would love to share more about her "good thymes" in the garden!
Cynthia has grown plants for over 50 years since reviving abandoned, almost dead, potted begonias in her first apartment as a 20-year-old. A rose lover since her childhood in Pakistan, she grew roses in large containers until her husband and she bought their first home in 1990 (Sonoma County, CA / Zone 9b-10a). In 2015 she moved to Prescott, Arizona ( Yavapai County / Zone 7-8a) with the gardening goal of developing a home orchard. Gardening at 5400' is a challenge! A high-elevation climate, with poor, stony, alkaline soil (or huge granite boulders), an average of 16" of rainfall annually, snowy winters, and a long cold season is quite an effort!
In the almost 8 years she has been gardening there, the property has been transformed into a wild-looking landscape accented with domesticated flower beds planted with more than 150 iris cultivars, including her ‘Family Heritage’ iris bed (dedicated to family members), spanning 135 years of iris development! Cynthia also grows 32 roses, peonies, a growing collection of 20 daylily varieties, more than 1000 daffodils, 22 fruit trees, many fruiting vines and shrubs, permaculture rainwater berms and swales, Hugelkultur raised veggie beds, a greenhouse, and more!
Frederick was gardening in New York State with his mother and father since before he can even recall. During those years they had an extensive garden of fruit trees, berry bushes, and all sorts of vegetables. Frederick's grandparents on both sides were from Italy, so the tomatoes were always very special to them! They even grew figs outdoors (in zone 5!) by tipping them into a dug-out trench on Columbus Day and lifting them back up in the spring.
As a teenager, Frederick bought field guides and familiarized himself with all of their native flora, edibles, trees, and medicinal plants. Next was college to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Plant Science and on to work as a Grower and Nursery Manager at a local nursery. In 2005 he worked as a Production Manager, overseeing greenhouse and field management; after that came work for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Davis, California where he spent a few years working on wine grape and orchard crop research in the Central Valley. A stint doing crop research for DuPont and growing algae for biofuel production round out his professional resume. In every place he has lived Frederick has left extensive gardens behind, and his education and experience have served him well as a base for learning to garden in numerous climates.
Ness is so excited to be one of your new regional Ambassadors for Raintree Nursery's Plant Ambassador Program! By day, she is a Pediatric Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. By night she dons her cape and cowl to become a self-proclaimed crazy plant lady. Vanessa has lived in Sonoma County (Northern California) for over 35 years, growing up on over 6 acres that contained a fruit tree orchard and large vegetable gardens. She has continued this passion as an adult with her own two daughters, growing dozens of fruit and citrus trees throughout their property, as well as a vegetable garden and hobby greenhouse.
Their home is also a private licensed nursery (The Plant Ness Monster) that specializes in exotic house plants, such as Monsteras and Philodendrons. Just like plants, she believed we humans require sunlight, hydration, nutrition, and of course, some TLC to thrive, and often our health is a reflection of the environment around us. Ness is excited to share her knowledge base with you to help you succeed with your own home orchards and gardens through Raintree’s Plant Ambassador program.
Darren is an avid gardener, orchardist, and certified permaculture designer. He has over 30 years of experience growing and harvesting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and ornamental plants in Southern California. Darren is also a glass artist and teacher who has been working with glass for over 15 years. He has studied many different glass-making techniques at various institutions but his primary areas of focus are fused and blown glass.
Darren works in the Art Department at Santa Monica College and has a BA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Darren has about 50 fruit and nut trees, many varieties, and quite a few interspecific ones. They run the gamut from deciduous to subtropical. In addition, he also has several varieties of bananas and dragon fruit and a very large vegetable and herb garden that he enjoys year-round.
Dan has had a passion for cultivating plants and trees from a very young age, collecting and saving seeds before he understood what plants and seeds were! Dan grew up in South and Central Florida and has a bachelor's degree in landscape horticulture, 15 years of parks maintenance experience, and is an ISA Certified Arborist. Currently, he cultivates just under a quarter acre property and is working to completely embrace permaculture. He has 3 apple trees, two of which he grafted, and one of which he is training in the shape of a planar cordon espalier. He has two large vegetable gardens, a large strawberry patch, 6 varieties of gooseberry, a current, pear tree, 2 varieties of seaberry, 3 romance bush cherries, numerous elderberries, honeyberry/haksap hybrids, 2 peach trees, and several grapes, as well as many herbaceous perennials and roses. Dan also squeezes in a small tree nursery, where he grows unusual specimens to donate, once they are large enough, to the municipality in which he works.
Bryan has led an interesting and varied life from symphony trombonist to euphonium soloist and teacher. After 25 five years, and a beautiful orchard in Mid-Pennsylvania, family and job opportunities have brought him back to the frigid Midwest. The last nine years have totally opened his mind to new agricultural practices; now he considers himself an experimental regenerative horticulturist, involved with saving all kinds of seeds and breeding unusual and critically endangered waterfowl.
Bryan has begun growing some interesting perennial vegetables, such as sorrels, Chinese artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, edible canna, and yacon. Lately, he has also been enjoying the benefits of growing all kinds of berries, including serviceberry, raspberries, thornless blackberry, seaberry, aronia, goji, and gooseberries. These plants complement his fruit orchard, which includes over two hundred apple, peach, pear, quince, paw paw, persimmon, and plum trees, many of which are rare heirlooms which he has grafted himself. He also grows a separate nut tree orchard with hazelnuts, black walnuts, heart nuts, and pecans.
Brooke was born and raised in Sterling, Alaska. Homesteading was her parent's way of life, so growing up she learned about growing food in the garden - where they grew everything from your expected kale and collards to the unexpected corn and tomatoes. Being tucked away in the wilderness, the plants were her closest companions.
At 17 years old, Brooke moved to Skagway in SE Alaska, a small and close-knit town full of avid gardeners. Being called to wild food and medicinal plants, she slowly started to learn about her connection to the native plants under her feet - and quickly fell in love. Working at the local grocery store, the local veggie garden, and also as a wilderness tour guide kept Brooke in tune with, and learning about, her own food and medicine. Brooke often went traveling for a month or a more, during the winter, when work petered off. She frequently found herself on farms in magical places - herding goats, making apple sauce, and filling orders for local shops and markets. In 2020 Brooke spent her summer in her own garden for one of the most fun years of growing she'd yet had, also volunteering at the community flower and veggie garden and taking advantage of the time to preserve as many wild medicinal plants as she possibly could.
These days she works as a farm manager for Skagway's local Tribal Government, The Skagway Traditional Council, re-establishing a 1-acre farm that sat fallow for 3 years, waiting to be revived. It has been a delightful journey and she looks forward to another season of helping establish better food security in her hometown and helping others on their plant path.
Heather grew up gardening beside her mother across the South and the Midwest, and settled in Southern Texas. Her family is originally from the central plains area, and her grandmothers always had at least a half-acre family garden. Heather had one grandfather who was a large-acreage farmer, and another grandfather who was a Midwestern college professor and administrator, with two PhDs, one of which was in biology. She grew up knowing the Latin names for most of what she planted, loving the direction that her insatiable questioning took her, and having an idea of what she was doing - because gardeners with greater skills than hers took the time to teach her.
Heather believes in thorough research and documented experimentation, and if she don't have the answer for something she asks Texas A&M University, or calls her local extension office. She stays abreast of new theories about gardening and because of this has changed a lot of things that she grew up doing. Heather has found, through years of research, many ideas she would not have come up with on her own. Everyone in the plant world is constantly learning, which she loves!