Donna Miller received associate and bachelor degrees in animal science from UNH and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, but she wishes she had added floriculture to those studies. No matter, because for more than 20 years Donna has been an exceptional gardening and pollinator educator.
Her gardening interest may have been seeded as a child growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. “My dad gave me an area to grow flowers” in the family’s vegetable garden, she said. It helped too that both sets of grandparents were “avid gardeners.” Many car trips to her maternal grandparents’ Vermont farm drew her to want “a lifestyle in the country.”
After graduation, she worked for 10 years with the New Hampshire Farm Bureau. “It was a great opportunity to learn about all types of agriculture,” she says. Wanting to pursue her “true passion for growing flowers,” she took a part-time job on a friend’s farm that raised cut-flowers. Another love sprouted there too, for she met her future husband Jim, who happened to have “a lovely wooded lot” in Canterbury where she now lives.
A wooded lot wasn’t ideal for growing flowers, so the Millers “logged parts of the property and put in new garden beds each year,” she says. “I incorporated cut-flowers into all the gardens and would sell pre-made bouquets from a table at the end of my driveway.”
In 2010, Donna and Jim decided to open a farm stand business, “Petals in the Pines,” selling flowers, silk botanical scarves and rhubarb-imprinted bird baths. They created “lots of cool nature spaces” on their property for their young son and daughter, now 22 and 20, respectively, and their friends to play. Spaces included a sunflower house, tree fort, morning glory tipi, a granite ledge climb, and a stream for exploring. Child treks included finding toads, snakes, butterflies, and dragonflies.
At the same time, Donna discovered the Nature Explore program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, which encourages and supports nature-based play and learning spaces for schools and daycare centers. In 2012, the Miller’s business became certified as a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom, one of seven in New Hampshire and the only one open to the public.
Donna took Master Gardener (MG) classes at Concord’s Unitarian Universalist Church in 2010. “The preschool at the church was having landscape issues, and I applied for a Master Gardener grant to start a woodland garden there.” In 2011 she followed her MG certificate by taking Natural Resource Stewards and Permaculture Design Certificate courses.
When her son was in second grade, his class studied monarch butterflies. He had to look for caterpillars on milkweed, and Donna recalls, “We had some growing on our property. Sure enough, we found caterpillars for him to take to school.” After that she spent several years monitoring and tagging butterflies for Monarch Watch. “I was an accidental citizen scientist” for them, and now hosts an official Monarch Way Station. The Miller farm holds a Monarch Festival each September
Donna is sure to save time to volunteer as a Master Gardener by speaking to groups on “Gardening for Pollinators”, organizing a plant swap for the town of Canterbury and serving on the Joint Continuing Education Committee which plans educational field trips and workshops for Master Gardeners and Natural Resource Stewards. Whether focusing on flowers or pollinators, teaching the public and her peers is her passion, always growing along with them (the flowers and the people).
UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers share information about home, yard, and garden topics with the people of New Hampshire. Got questions? Master Gardeners provide practical help finding answers to your questions through the Ask UNH Extension Infoline. Call toll free at 1-877-398-4769, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.