Talk of the Town - Horticultural infatuation November 04 2004

Atlanta Botanical Garden curator of desert plants brings her passion home

Few people can boast

having an exotic garden filled with rare plants. Kara Ziegler, however, is the creator of two: one in her back yard and the other at the Desert House of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Ziegler's job as the Desert House curator involves much more than observing exotic flora whose arid homeland may be just a dream's destination. As a cultivator of endangered species, mostly from South Africa and Madagascar, her occupation also bears a conservation message. In addition to her nine-to-five duties, Ziegler continues to nurse the desert species at her home. The charmingly manicured oasis behind her East Atlanta bungalow houses short rose shrubs beneath which grow hardy succulents such as euphorbia, sedum and hens and chicks. Although it may seem like the plants of the Botanical Garden have taken center stage in Ziegler's life, the organization also played a meaningful role in her romantic life, having met her husband, Adam, while working there.

Creative Loafing: How did you two originally meet?

Ziegler: Adam was working in tropicals and I interned there as a greenhouse assistant.

What led you to work in the desert collections?

I always liked the succulent plants and found them really interesting. It just so happened that there was an opening and I begged my boss. That was about two to three years ago.

You dedicate much of your time to preserving indigenous plants from remote countries. Do you have any examples of what keeps you motivated?

One of the areas I work with is Madagascar. The habitat there is being completely destroyed because the forests are being slashed down. They burn them and turn them into charcoal, and the people who live in Madagascar make money off that.

What is the rewarding aspect of cultivating your gardens?

At home I love having a beautiful garden. I love collecting different species, so I like knowing that I have a plant that maybe no one else has. I like getting unique and rare plants.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

At work it's about collecting, too. I do like to re-create habitats. I like looking at pictures and then trying to re-create the original national habitat.

Does the Atlanta Botanical Garden have a special place in your life?

That will always be a special place to us. We met there, got married there and we both worked there. We are just drawn to the Botanical Garden.

Which part of the world would you most like to see?

I'd love to go to South Africa — that would be quite an experience. I just look at the pictures in books now, but to see the plants actually in their native habitat would be amazing.