Everyone should have a passion about something.
Written by Jackeye Meinecke
Photography by Steven Kavanagh
Many gardeners have met Jeff Anderson, the Doña Ana County Extension Agent for more than a decade. Perhaps they have called for help with a tree, or attended one of his talks at the annual garden show or seen him in a segment on television. Meeting him in his professional capacity gives one very little idea of the person behind the title. And, it’s an impressive title at that: Associate Professor/Ag Agent/Agronomy & Horticulture, Doña Ana County Extension Office.
The best aspect of his job, according to Anderson is working with people, who soon discover Anderson is passionate about trees, succulents, palms, and many other aspects of nature and gardens. It turns out that Anderson has many passions, an attribute he considers important to living well.
“Everyone should have a passion about something,” he said.
One of several of his passions is growing things, creating landscapes, and spending hours outdoors in gardens. Anderson is known for his city garden that was featured on the Las Cruces Tour of Gardens. He has created landscapes for local gardeners as well as designing some public gardens.
“I can hardly wait for spring,” Anderson declares on a chilly January day, as we sit in front of an electric fireplace in his home. “The smell of the soil, watching things grow, watching bees pollinate the fruit trees,” he said.
He grew up on a Minnesota farm with 40 acres of apple trees where he spent his days outdoors in all the seasons. He recalls spending hours observing bees pollinate the trees, the unfurling of a fern frond, the cycle of amphibians from eggs to tadpoles to frogs.
Anderson admits he always loved agriculture – luckily for him, since his career has ranged from commercial grower to Dona Ana County Extension Agent. Though he sees himself as a horticulturist rather than as an agronomist.
He discovered a passion for palm trees when he was quite young, visiting the glass conservatory at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He would explore the dense tropical forest of the conservatory’s 64-foot-tall crystal Palm Dome planted with more than 150 tropical palm and cycad species. Outside of the conservatory snow and ice coated the landscape during 30 degrees below zero winter days.
His small city garden features hundreds of palm trees from around the world.
“I don’t know how to express it,” Anderson muses. “I walk out the door and marvel at nature. The simple beauty of a flower.”
So it is no surprise his first job was commercial plant production.
“It is refreshing and fills your soul,” he said of working with plants. “I love every plant. I haven’t found a plant I don’t like,” Anderson emphasizes. ” There is a purpose for everything.”
As Anderson expands on this theme, he notes he is passionate specifically about trees – not just palms. He would like to see more oaks species planted around our community. He is an advocate about developing desert tough maple trees.
Anderson said he seeks peace and quiet. ” I walk out into nature and observe.”
His care for people to extends beyond his job as county agent. He currently is teaching vegetable gardening and landscape skills to prisoners in maximum security at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.
It is refreshing and fills your soul. I love every plant. I haven’t found a plant I don’t like.
He is devotes time to connecting with these “forgotten people” to learn skills that can be applied in a future work situation. He discovered there were no programs for prisoners held in Level 3 maximum security prison, so he created a program to teach landscape maintenance.
“I care more than people realize.”
Anderson also embraces art and music. From classical piano performances to flamenco to old jazz, he finds most music moving. He appreciates art – taking the time to look at the strokes, the color, the composition.
“It’s a wonder – like the flower – to create beauty,” he said.