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Tanner Hamerling Curates Experiences With The Arnold Arboretum

Tanner Hammerling inside a tree

Tanner Hamerling, a senior in the Department of Horticultural Science, professed he was not looking toward an arboretum when searching for internships. However, the Arnold Arboretum was, according to Hamerling, “One of the best summer experiences I could have had. And this is from a student more interested in plant breeding than public gardens.”

Hamerling said there were different areas of focus for students applying for this internship and curation was the route he decided to take because “It gave me a unique aspect of knowing how different plants fit in certain areas and how to make a case for those plants to be shown in a public setting.” Being part of the team that would advocate for a plant’s inclusion was particularly enjoyable because it blended the practice of curation and the organization of an arboretum with a love of plants, which for many a horticulture major, seems to be an inborn trait. 

The passion for plants that students like Hamerling have can guide them toward a specific area of horticulture. However, horticulture is a vast field, and they can often discover other pockets or niches that provide them with personal and professional growth opportunities. The Arnold Arboretum curation department would assist with labeling, go on collecting missions, bring back and spread plants to other arboretums, and assist with research from Harvard and all over the world.

Hamerling doing azalea wellness checks with cohort
Tanner Hamerling and a coworker doing azalea wellness checks at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

Hamerling said the Arnold Arboretum tries to expose students to different jobs related to working in any such environment with experiences from tree climbing to chainsaw repair, classes on integrated pest management, pathogen identification, and more. He also learned about some of the minute details of running a large arboretum like checking signs, keeping them up-to-date, dealing with damage, making plant information easy to find, and general plant health checks. 

With a love for plant breeding drawing Hamerling to grad school, it was clear to see why an arboretum could be seen as an odd choice for an internship but he said, “An important part of breeding programs is about collecting and doing so in a responsible way so you could be exposed to many plants–and their traits–you might not have been aware of. This expanded my view on breeding. Curation is a piece of plant breeding.” 

Good internships offer more than just work with a dash of education but really open students to the ins and outs of a specific industry and provide unique opportunities. Hamerling greatly appreciated the field trip aspect of his internship experience combined with having a cohort of peers with similar interests. This is great for someone, like Hamerling, who was from out-of-state so the Arnold Arboretum’s program created a kind of “built-in set of friends”.

Arnold Arboretum cohorts and friends in front of trees
Tanner Hamerling, friends and Arnold Arboretum cohorts taking a group photo.

Field trips took Hamerling as far north as Maine, where he visited other arboretums. The trips were an opportunity to learn how other public gardens operate but also act as a breather. 

“I feel out-of-state internships scare people,” Hamerling said. The cost of living can be a worry in some cases but the people at the Arnold Arboretum were helpful with this very necessary aspect of moving for an internship. “The Arnold has a good support system called Friends of the Arboretum and they were able to help find housing in a beautiful home.” 

Aside from memories and experiences, Hamerling is taking new learned skills with him to graduate school. He said the plant and disease identification training will be incredibly helpful with a plant breeding career. He is also thankful to the Hunnewell family who financed the internship and gave students this incredible opportunity. 

While Hamerling is focusing on other areas of horticulture, this was a beautiful example of how the world of horticulture is so deeply connected that one area can inform another or improve your view on a specific field and give you skills to carry with you. Hamerling can’t speak highly enough about this internship with the Arnold Arboretum and he encourages students to look for these experiences no matter whether they are near or far from home. 

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