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I started visiting the San Antonio Botanical Garden four years ago in 2017 after receiving a membership as a gift. I was working full time as a floral designer and went to the garden weekly to explore alone and with friends. It was my getaway and even as a guest, I was comfortable calling it home. 

Floral design may be my professional background but that’s not where my love for plants began. It began in my childhood backyard where before planting our vegetable gardens, my dad and I would take mud baths in celebration of a large tomato crop. Every late winter we would cut down the banana trees, and I’d help haul off pieces. Those were the days I learned what a heat-induced mirage was and the howl of cicadas found a place in my heart.

Years later at only my second job being a florist I dove in headfirst with design, color, artful manipulation of natural objects, and working with perishables and living plants. I spent several years studying the desires of locals, travelers, mourning souls, and business professionals alike. Creating beautiful things became the world to me. Now as the senior conservatory gardener at the San Antonio Botanical Garden I am a caretaker and young garden designer. Maintaining thriving specimens and dreaming up living garden designs is my goal. 

Chelsea Crisler, a senior conservatory gardener at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, tends to some light trimming of flowers in her area.
Chelsea Crisler, a senior conservatory gardener at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, tends to some light trimming of flowers in her area. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Marching toward opportunity has gotten me into a beautiful niche position at the garden. A small team and I are responsible for the detailed care of our five conservatory buildings, courtyard, and koi pond. My job is to tackle anything the plants need when they need it. This involves watering, trimming, identifying problems, and implementing solutions while communicating with various departments like education, maintenance, and the rest of horticulture. 

My favorite part of the season is designing our semi-annual bed changes and focal pot displays. Introducing new ideas and plants is exhilarating when successful and there is consistently a lesson to be learned. As well as my daily responsibilities, various teams across the garden utilize my talents in different ways. I make foraged floral arrangements from our beautiful garden for events and special requests. I am always thrilled to take part in making large horticultural displays for all kinds of events, like a 20-foot tall poinsettia tree for the winter season, and a living wall of orchids for our annual orchid week in January.

I also teach various workshops throughout the year, which is a treat. As the season changes, the bustle at the garden is increasingly strong. Garden areas are being transformed and we will undergo our winter “change out” this month, where we tuck our summer plants into the greenhouse and plant winter annuals to bloom through our unpredictable San Antonio winter. The rest of 2021 will be garden planning and planting while coordinating with our upcoming winter light show, Lightscape, and preparing months ahead for spring. 

Chelsea Crisler, a senior conservatory gardener at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, trains a flowering vine along a lattice.
Chelsea Crisler, a senior conservatory gardener at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, trains a flowering vine along lattice in the Northrup Tropical Room. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

I get a sense of accomplishment when I see guests making use of the areas I maintain in different ways. People propose to their significant others here, do creative videos for projects, bring out their easels to paint the landscape for hours, and frequently enjoy a beautiful first date. You name it and it is happening in some corner of our 38-acre Texas garden. It is important in my career that I give to others and help this world in some way. Being a part of cultivating a beautiful canvas for my hometown community has been more than a job and the finished product is thrilling. The process can be nerve-racking at times; the saying is “trust the process” and this could not be truer. Many of the preliminary steps to beauty are not that pretty. On a busy day, I will exceed 10 miles of walking, jogging, climbing, and doing the gardeners squat in all weather. 

I used to ask the universe how I landed in the amazing field of floriculture and horticulture. I did not seek this career out but I know I am meant to be here. My intuition glows in this environment like nowhere else and I am blessed to be able to listen to it on a daily basis to carry out my responsibilities large or minute. Seeking knowledge is essential but letting my passion shine and trusting my instincts has opened more doors for me since my first day at the garden. Nearing three years later, I am honored to be an emerging women leader and representative for tropical plants in South Texas and beyond.