Having grown up in Anaconda on her family’s vegetable farm, Bennett is no stranger to harvesting the bounties of the earth. She even recalls watching her grandmother tend to a flower bed of pansies when she was young. As she grew up, Bennett delved more deeply into the art of caring for flowers and plants, which she described as a trial-and-error process. Whether it was watering too much or not enough, giving too much or not enough light, she learned the hard way how to keep plants alive and healthy.
“I learned mistake by mistake,” she said.
Bennett came to work for Valley Farms over a decade ago. She started out with few responsibilities but today does a little bit of everything from helping customers and watering plants to designing and planting custom pots. She even totes a phone around in her apron pocket to answer calls in between coiling up hoses and moving new plants onto the floor.
When she shows up for work in the morning, Bennett’s first priority is always watering the plants. Since so much money is invested in them, it’s essential to keep them healthy. Then she usually checks with her supervisor to see if there are any special orders that she needs to attend to. As the day progresses, Bennett takes care of whatever needs to be done. This usually includes some combination of cleaning plants, unloading trucks with new plants in them (which arrive on Thursdays), working the cash register, answering phones, potting plants, designing and planting perennial gardens around town, helping customers, and anything else that crops up along the way.
Bennett explained that many view nursery work as a “fun” job. She admits that it is, but stresses that it is also a very physically demanding job. Before coming to Valley Farms, Bennett taught exercise classes for 30 years. She says she no longer has to worry about weight gain or staying in shape because her job ensures that.
The part she enjoys the most involves tapping into her creative impulses and getting her hands dirty. Designing and planting customized pots and gardens is where Bennett’s true passion lies. When she started designing, Bennett admits that she was horrible at it. But over time she says she just “got an eye for it.” With any type of planting, Bennett says that it isn’t something that can really be taught. It is something that must be learned on one’s own. But for customers who don’t want to take the time to learn, Bennett is there to help.
Customers often come in and purchase a pot but aren’t sure what types of plants/flowers will grow well together in it. This is when Bennett steps in and assists. But she doesn’t just select whatever arrangement she thinks would be best. Bennett walks through the nursery with the customer so that they can plan it out together. She also educates them so that they know what type of lighting, environment, and watering quantity their plants require.
“If I can make a difference in customers purchasing plants and help them be successful at growing them, that’s a real joy for me,” says Bennett.
Many personal gardens and even some public ones around town owe their beauty to Bennett’s hands. The beautiful potted floral arrangements currently outside the St. Helena Cathedral were designed and planted solely by Bennett.
When it comes to being successful in Bennett’s line of work, she says that it takes a true and natural kind of love for flowers and plants. She says if you are only there for the paycheck you won’t be able to put in the effort plants require; when you love the work, however, it “makes you gentle and loving with everything.”
Many people consider gardening to be therapeutic and Bennett is no exception.
“It’s so remedial,” she says. She explained that even when she has a hard day at work, she can come home to work in her own garden and it brings her a sense of relief. When asked to explain why that is, she says it all has to do with working with one’s hands and moving them about in the earth.
Working with the earth also brings Bennett back to her blue-collar family roots. It has taught her to follow through and finish her work, to take pride in what she does no matter the level of job prestige, and to work with such dedication each day that you’d think she owns the business.
When asked what type of flower/plant most resonates with her, Bennett answered—without even pausing to think—the pansy.
She grew up watching her grandmother tend to a pansy garden, and notes that “pansies are the most resilient of all flowers.”
She says she always tells people that when someone tells them they are acting like a pansy (slang term meaning timid and unassertive), to take it as a compliment.
“You can plant a pansy in the snow and it comes up smiling in the spring,” she says.
For Bennett, every day working at Valley Farms is “paradise.” She never stops marveling over the splendor of something new starting to bloom.
“I’m in awe every day,” she says.