Sunday, July 31, 2022

Honoring Mary Irish

The San Antonio Garden Center has established the Mary Irish Memorial Scholarship Fund. Mary Irish, a noted horticulturist, author, lecturer and gardener passed away in August 2021, leaving a list of accomplishments that included 10 books on southwest and Texas gardening with an 11th book currently at the publisher. Mary and her husband Gary spent many years in the Phoenix area where she was Director of Public Horticulture at the Desert Botanical Garden. After 25 years in Arizona she and Gary retired to their native Texas and settled in Castroville just west of San Antonio. She embraced her new gardening adventure by creating a Tex-Mex border of locally native plants and even turned up to purchase plants from a Castroville gardener during their city-wide garage sale. Mary appeared on Central Texas Gardener and the show's producer, Linda Lehmusvirta, wrote a wonderful tribute to Mary containing excerpts from her books.

I met Mary several times while attending her fun and informative talks, and while picking up plants at the sales she conducted for the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. She was an advocate for growing locally native plants and enthusiastically sold me on one of her favorite South Texas native plants, Mexican Plumbago, which I still enjoy in my garden. As an excellent teacher her talks went beyond basics to explain details such as how certain plants survive drought. She was also entertaining as a speaker, and I remember she showed a hanging basket of Agave americana pups which elicited amazed laughter from the audience since we all knew how quickly they would grow to massive size in our climate. She was on the editorial board of the American Horticultural Society and among her most interesting projects was her stint as lead horticulturist on the gardens at Sunnylands in California. What a fascinating experience that must have been!

Photo from Central Texas Gardener

Mary had many fans in San Antonio, and local garden designer Charles Bartlett has provided an initial investment in a scholarship in her honor through the San Antonio Garden Center. As a board member and co-chair for their annual scholarship luncheon, I enjoyed the chance to do something special for Mary who had inspired me and so many others. The Mary Irish Memorial Scholarship Fund, with the generous initial donation from Charles and anticipated follow-on contributions, will award annual scholarships to local students majoring in Horticulture, Botany, or Environmental Science. We believe this is a fitting tribute since Mary was especially interested in encouraging women to pursue STEM careers. Applicants should email their interest to Contributions may be sent to The San Antonio Garden Center for the Mary Irish Memorial Scholarship fund.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with Charles to establish this scholarship to honor Mary Irish in a way that we are sure she would have approved.