Alex Lavrisha—Secrest Arboretum Seasonal Horticulturalist

Alex Lavrisha

If you have been lucky, you may have run into Alex Lavrisha at the Autumn Discovery Day or on the Secrest grounds. He was the one enthusiastically praising your plant sale selections or planting the latest Secrest acquisition with gusto! As Secrest Arboretum’s Seasonal Horticulturalist, Alex assists in maintaining the Secrest gardens and nursery. He appreciates “the privilege of doing meaningful work in a beautiful place.” According to Alex, “There are no hard days at Secrest, only hard weather.”

Alex has many interests: hiking, foraging for mushrooms, playing chess, spending time at Lake Erie, listening to music, watching mixed martial arts and boxing, and reading. Growing up “on a couple of acres of prime Ohio swampland in Mentor, Ohio,” his imagination flowed freely in a landscape full of native flora and beautiful plant specimens. However, his path to  working with plants was not straightforward.

Following graduation from Hiram College with a degree in philosophy, Alex worked in various  positions. His love of books found him working in libraries, doing gardening and  landscaping on the side. Working as a tour guide at Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens in Philadelphia, he began to consider horticulture in a serious way. Here he met head gardener Francheska Snyder. According to Alex, “. . . her farming and microbiology background and her patient leadership taught me to respect the scientific approach.” Returning to Ohio to study library science, he realized closed spaces were not for him. With the encouragement of his neighbor Amy Miller “who had the greenest of thumbs,” he decided to change career paths and pursue horticulture. He was hired at Petitti’s Garden Center in Avon, where he served as the “right hand” of Nursery Manager Antonio Tamayo. Tamayo trained him
on the practical aspects of gardening, landscaping, and nursery management. He also learned a valuable lesson, “how to become a professional and to take pride in my work as a  nurseryman.”

Applying for a position at Ohio State, Alex came across the job opening for Secrest Arboretum. When asked about his employment at Secrest, he replied, “I might be the luckiest manAlex Lavrisha alive.” On his first visit to Secrest, he was struck by the towering Dawn Redwoods and the expansive Crablandia collection. Working at Petitti’s, he had had much experience assisting customers in selecting crabapple trees for their yards and he enjoyed learning about this tree. About crabapples, he states, “They’re gnarly, they’re messy, they’re colorful, they’re
brilliant—the good, the bad, the ugly; crabapples keep it real!”

Alex has a wry sense of humor, stating, “I wear many hats at Secrest, but a big part of my job is assuring people that I am not Matt but not to worry; he is around.” Alex enjoys all aspects of his job, but especially planting, commenting, “We’re always firing something unique in the ground, and you get to make your personal mark on the arboretum. Will they stand the test of time? Stay tuned!” Alex credits his enthusiasm to “… the joy of being outdoors, under the sky and canopy.”

His work ethic is appreciated by Secrest Operations Manager Paul Snyder who states, “Alex is enthusiastic and excited to learn as much as he can about plants. He brings passion and dedication to his work. We are grateful to have Alex on the Secrest team!”

Alex is a self-described “Philosopher of Action,” who hopes to contribute to the preservation of the natural world and to publish some writing. Alex’s work at Secrest is certainly a step in that direction. As Alex might comment, “Stay tuned!”

--Pat Warner, Secrest Master Gardener Volunteer