20 Questions with Liz Klose

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on June 30, 2014
Liz Klose is director of Memorial University’s Botanical Garden in St. John’s. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

Liz Klose isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. And she says she’s got the soil underneath her nails to prove it.

The lifetime gardner has been the chief plant whisperer for Memorial University’s Botanical Garden since 2012 and is embracing her new position as the garden’s director.

“I’m well-rooted in the garden now,” she said with laughter during a recent telephone interview from Denver, Col., where she was attending the American Public Garden Association Conference.

“I say to the staff, I started off as a tropical annual and now I’m a well-established perennial,” said Klose, who resides in Ontario.

She and her husband, Gerald, live in Niagara-on-the-Lake where they own 15 acres of vineyard on the family farm. While she jokes she has the longest job commute ever, Klose wouldn’t have it any other way.

“He was very supportive. I couldn’t do this without the support of my family. It isn’t easy living in two different places, but I do it because I love the garden and I know I can make a difference,”she said.

“I’m willing to do that so if I’m willing to travel that distance everybody has to come out and visit the garden,” she said laughing. “Because it is a gem of a garden. It is the best kept secret in the province and it is very unique.”

She said her involvement with various organizations over the years has taken her on garden tours — more than 250 around the world — but she has never seen anything like the MUN Botanical Garden.

Klose, who is the first female director since the garden opened in the 1970s, said the combination of the rock garden, the collection of plants, the trails and natural beauty of the garden is what makes it so special.

“It was basically carved out of a dumpsite, from dump  to trump,” she said.

“There was a lot of garbage on the site in the 1970s and you have to give credit to all the folks like Bernard Jackson, the original curator, who had this vision which was supported by the university, and what a treasure it is. This green space right in the heart of St. John’s,” she said.

 Klose says the MUN Botanical Garden is a living museum and a place of refuge, a destination for learning and an inspiration for horticulture.

She said it is made possible by the wonderful staff and the dedication of a group of volunteers known as Friends of the Garden.

Klose left her position as landscape priorities manager with the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association in February 2012 to join the garden. She’s also former superintendent of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture, where she began as an instructor.

Her whole life, personally and professionally, has been rooted in her love for the outdoors and working the land.

She grew up in St. Thomas, Ont., on a jersey dairy farm and her father, a longtime dairy farmer, was an MP for 20 years and the agriculture minister in the mid-’80s.

She jokes she was born with a trowel in her hand.

“I had my very own vegetable garden at the age of five. I’m a farm girl. I was always gardening, always had a vegetable garden,” said Klose, who has also co-authored two gardening books.

Aside from the awe-inspiring, living collection of plants, shrubs and trees at the MUN Botanical Garden Klose said the preserved green space is also used for research and education.

And if it were up to her every school child would have the opportunity to experience the garden’s beauty and get their hands dirty in its soil.

“This province is renowned for its vast shorelines, forests and parks, so its hard to imagine a nature and gardening deficit,” she said.

“There is a gap in what could be possible with respect to nature and gardening education. Our education programs are full of kids wanting to learn more. They are the generation who will be the stewards of the land and the environment,” she said.

“They need to have the hands-on experience and knowledge tools to preserve and conserve our greenspaces.

“Imagine if every class in every school had the opportunity to learn more about gardening and nature? Our world will be a better place.”

 This weekend, July 5-6, is the

second annual Mystery Garden Tour fundraiser for the MUN Botanical Garden.

Klose said it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see 12 private gardens not open to the public using a $25 passport as passage.

She said they have homes in Mount Pearl, Paradise and the Metro region and the idea is to inspire and educate other garden lovers.

 “The first one was so successful that it gave us the confidence, momentum and encouragement to hold a second one,” said Klose.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see some beautiful gardens, learn about plant compilations, planting and placements and pathways and ponds,” she said.

As a bonus, Klose said the Mun Botanical Garden is also on the tour as an extra.  

For more information on the tour or to purchase a passport go to the garden’s website: www.mun.ca/botgarden.

In the meantime, Klose encourages people to visit the best-kept secret in the city of St. John’s.

“Oftentimes people will ask when is the best time to visit the garden and I always say every day because it is a living museum and what a difference a day makes.

Everyday the garden looks different,” she said.

“We want to people to visit and visit often. It’s a whole experience that changes on a daily basis and everyday there is something new.”



What is your full name?

Elizabeth Ann Klose  (but she goes by Liz).


Where and when were you born?

St. Thomas, Ont., September 1959.


Where is home today?

Niagara on the Lake Ontario and St. John’s, Newfoundland (a bit of a commute!).


What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?

Me? Rebellious in my youth? Never (wink) …. But my parents would tell you otherwise.


What is your favourite food?

Cheese, especially when it is paired with the appropriate really good wine.


What are five CDs in your music collection?

Blue Rodeo, Great Big Sea, Jann Arden, miscellaneous classical/instrumental and, since being in Newfoundland and Labrador, the entire series of “Homebrew.”


What is your greatest indulgence?

Plants. I am addicted to plants.

Thankfully I am in the right profession. I can’t go into a garden centre without buying something.


What was the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?

That I was flying. I frequently have this dream. I never remember getting to the destination, but the view, always just above tree tops, during the journey is amazing.  


What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to make things — anything. When I am at my home in Niagara on the Lake, I would be getting together with friends to make stuff, or to cook. The biggest ‘bee’ we had was when four of us made 80 apple pies in one day.


What is your greatest regret?

No regrets. The decisions I have made in my life have not been made lightly. Sure there are a few little things but, essentially, no regrets. But at the end of the road I will probably regret not spending more time with family and having more fun. The poem “If I Had my Life to Live Over,” by Nadine Stair, will no doubt be the same words for me.


What bugs you?

Duplication of effort. I don’t rewind well. Also inefficiencies — drives me wild.


What are your best and worst qualities?

I have always been very driven and determined to succeed or make something work — I rarely give up on anything until I have exhausted every angle, which can either can be considered my best or worst quality.


Who inspires you?

People who truly make a positive contribution to the world and people around them.


Do you have any hidden talents?

I am a very crafty person — always have been making stuff since I was a kid. I am now addicted to Pinterest.


What is your personal motto?

I saw this once on a poster, tracked it down, bought it and had it framed. It’s been in my home office now for about 20 years. It sums up my view on life “The Essence of a New Day: This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use if for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind … let it be something good.”


What is one unusual thing few people know about you?

I was the runner-up in the Queen of the Furrow Competition at the International Plowing Match in 1984. (I did say I was a farm girl, right?) It  was a competition of plowing skill, public speaking, etc.


Who is one person, living or deceased, you’d love to have lunch with?

My Dad. He passed very suddenly a couple of years ago, and I would give anything to have more time with him, and certainly longer than just lunch.


What motivates you?

New ideas and projects that bring a higher level of excellence. I can envision the end result, and that’s what motivates me.


What is your biggest fear?



If you were premier of the province, what is one thing you would try to do?

Mandate a nature-gardening curriculum-based program in every school. I am answering this as the prime minster of Canada as I, and others, agree that this should not only be in this province, but in every province across Canada. Some provinces have green programs, however, more development and opportunity is required to bring youth in touch with nature and gardening, with field trips, and experiential learning opportunities beyond the classroom. The future of our green spaces depend on this generation for preservation and conservation before it’s too late.