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Jun 12, 2017 12:02PM

Cultivating the future: Port Byron native blossoms with horticultural honor

By Jonathan Turner
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Brian Achenbach / bachenbach@qconline.com
Kate Mapes, assistant gardener and office project coordinator at the Quad City Botanical Center, Thursday, March 2, 2017, in the Sun Garden. Ms. Mapes is one of Greenhouse Product News magazine's 40 Horticulturalists Under 40.
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Kate Mapes has her dream job, working with plants and gardens year-round, and she is being honored for it by a leading publication for her industry.

On staff at the Quad City Botanical Center, Mapes has been picked as one of Greenhouse Product News magazine's Top 40 Horticulturalists Under 40.

"I could not be more humbled to be selected for this great honor," she says. "I was very surprised to hear the news, and I am so excited to be included with my industry peers who share this with me.

"I didn't imagine that I'd ever be chosen," she says. "It was really exciting."

GPN editorial director Tim Hodson says the goal of the program, in its sixth year, is "to celebrate the achievements of 40 young professionals (who) excel in their professional careers and personal lives.

"These young men and women are making a difference in our industry's future," says Hodson, a Moline native. "In fact, they are creating our industry's future."

The 40 winners represent the entire horticulture industry — growers, breeders, garden center operators, landscapers, researchers, horticulturists, academics, marketers/communicators and scientists, Hodson says.

"They are passionate about what they do and where horticulture is headed … and they are determined to set the pace for the industry for many years to come," he says. Winners are nominated by their peers, and this year's winners were featured in the May issue of GPN, online at gpnmag.com and on Hort TV, its online video channel.

The first 40 Under 40 class in 2012 included Kate Terrell at Wallace's Garden Center in Bettendorf.

Mapes, who grew up on a dairy farm in rural Port Byron, was nominated by Ryan Wille, marketing and special events manager for the Botanical Center. She started working part time at the center in 2007 and has been full-time "team support" since 2014, overseeing the Children's Garden, which opened that year, and supporting education and administrative staff.

"Many days, her title could not ring more true," Wille says. "Kate has a hand in nearly everything that guests can experience while at the center."

Hodson says GPN started the 40 Under 40 to recognize the next generation.

"Unfortunately, the industry is mainly made up by a bunch of old guys," he says. The program has been incredibly successful. The kids, they're really proud to make the list. It is a mark, you're nominated by your peers. ... Making the cut is unbelievable."

Hodson says that "at the Botanical Center, the things (Kate is) doing there are pretty great."

The Botanical Garden opened in 1998 when Mapes was a high school freshman.

"Growing up in the country, doing agriculture every day, made me want to do this," she says. The center "gives people a place for people to go to see things they can't see in their backyards," Mapes says. "You can come in the winter and see plants bigger than you'd be able to grow in your sun room. ... In the middle of January, when there is nothing green — except a couple of house plants you have — you can come here and still get that green space."

Mapes earned her bachelor's degree in ornamental horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Upon graduation, she had a six-month internship at the "Living With the Land" pavilion at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

Mapes managed the garden center at a Farm & Fleet store for six years before joining the Botanical Center full time, leading school tours and other programs for the public.

She says she really likes the chocolate tour for adults, offered on request, and her favorite kids' event is a Sun Garden tour of its 100-plus varieties of plants — where she talks about coffee, chocolate and bananas.

"It's cool interacting with the kids in here," she says. "The nice part about my job is, I'm always moving. I'm never at my desk."

She and her husband, Steve, live in Davenport with their two dogs. She says she is seeing more people wanting to learn how they can grow plants.

"There's a lot of excitement about planting your own gardens, growing your own food at home, growing flowers in your yard — making your house into an oasis."

Contributor Jonathan Turner is a writer on staff with the Dispatch•Argus•QCOnline.

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