I was raised in Southeastern Pennsylvania in a little town called Pughtown, not too far from Philadelphia, and not too far from Longwood Gardens. It was a rural community when I lived there, but today it’s turned into a suburb of Philadelphia. I attended Owen J. Roberts High School. It was a relatively small school with about 200 students per class. It’s a lot bigger today. While I was there I had the opportunity to participate in the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for Agriculture at Penn State. It was there, while working with Dr. Edwin Rajotte, that I decided I wanted to be an entomologist. After high school I attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I majored in biology.
After college, I immediately set out for The University of Georgia where I worked on insect pests of pecans. Most of my field work was done in Tifton, Georgia though I attended classes in Athens. I received a master’s degree in entomology and then, while my Ph.D. was underway, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Mike Dirr, one of the great plantsmen of our time. Dirr was an inspiration to me and so I left my work in entomology to pursue a degree in horticulture and never looked back. After graduate school I headed straight up to Minnesota after being offered a job as an assistant professor working with the nursery industry. My job quickly changed after I arrived, and though I still work with the nursery industry, most of my efforts are concentrated on landscape plants and what we call consumer horticulture. This basically just means that I work with the people who end up purchasing plants and all of the related products that go with these plants like fertilizers and pesticides.
In 2004, I got fed up with some of the ridiculous suggestions that a certain TV personality was trying to pass off as garden cures and so I started to research those cures with my own experiments and a lot of time in the library. The result was a book, The Truth About Garden Remedies which was amazingly well received. Encouraged by its success I wrote a second book, The Truth About Organic Gardening, which examined the good and bad practices in the modern organic garden. My third book, How Trees Die, is about how trees in different environments are treated and affected by people, which ultimately leads to their deaths.
Until 2013, I taught two classes per year at the University of Minnesota including Nursery Management and Plant Propagation. I also helped teach a course on pesticides. I also conducted research on an 8 acre nursery on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota which I ran cooperatively with Gary Johnson, a Professor in the Forestry Department.
After 15 years at the University of Minnesota my family and I decided to move back to the sunny south and currently reside in Charlotte, North Carolina where I became an instructor at Central Piedmont Community College. In 2015 I became the Director of the Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.