It’s a puzzlement. Not being a scientist myself – and having done my best in school to avoid anything science-related – I find in later years that I’m oddly drawn to scientific topics. Don’t get me started on the Manhattan Project; I’ve become inexplicably obsessed with the life of Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb. Strange, for an aging flower child, but the story of this scientific undertaking – this scientific puzzle whose solution forever changed the world – is tragic and enlightening and rife with lessons, both scientific and sociological.

Once a rabid opponent to NASA and its phenomenal budget, I’ve come to be fascinated with Hubble and galaxies and earth-bound applications of physicists’ work. One of my very dearest friends was an astrophysicist who “fixed” something on the Magellan project (goodness! something amiss in deep space?), and while I rarely understood his musings, I applauded his drive to apply his findings to everyday conundrums. At the time of his passing, he was working on a grant-funded project to adapt classified rocket-type knowledge (all very hush-hush) to breast cancer research. And while he was forever cooking up calculations to correct some sort of interstellar glitch, he was just as eagerly applying that creativity to design and fabrication puzzles at his wife’s stained glass studio.

So I’ve come a long way from dodging physics class in favor of poetry to celebrating the contributions of science to … beauty. The two are ineluctably bound. Just as science and utility. Just as science and practicality. Just as science and … commercial horticulture.

Richard Olsen advocates for connecting science and commercial hort every day. In his position as Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, this scientist and self-described plant geek brings to a venerable institution a keen understanding of the science as well as the industry, and a determination to connect the scientists of the Arboretum with the practitioners (see “The USNA’s New Age” on page 8).

AmericanHort advocates for connecting science and commercial hort every day, too. The Horticultural Research Institute is the best example, of course, but the advocacy goes beyond research to outreach. When bees disappear and the public jumps to conclusions, AmericanHort serves up the science behind the problem.

When well-intentioned gardeners take a native-only approach, it’s the science that helps them understand “right plant, right place.” When ill-informed advocacy groups blame the industry for invasives and all manner of eco-terror, it’s the science that bridges that chasm of misunderstanding.

When a breeder seeks to develop the most unusual, the most breathtakingly beautiful bloom, it’s a keen eye, an appreciation of the aesthetics, and the science that produce a new plant.

I’m preaching to the choir, I know. But it took me a long time to fully appreciate the beauty of science, and the science of beauty. Let’s make more noise about it.

(Math? That’s another matter.)


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