My name is Paige Nugent. I would love to say I’m a full time gardener, or that I even work in that industry. But I don’t.
I’m a nurse.
I didn’t start out as a nurse. I started out as a nature lover. My father started teaching me early about the natural world. My childhood pictures are mostly of me, holding some insect and grinning like a fool.
I didn’t get a ‘real’ pet (a dog) until 5th grade, but I had plenty of other pets. My parents let me raise critters as a child. Every summer I raised caterpillars to butterflies, spiders and even tried to sneak a few snakes past my mother.
I caught a chipmunk once, but that’s another story.
I learned that baby rabbits are fine on their own, and that if you put a basket in a tree you can put lost baby birds back in the tree where momma will feed them. If a bird hits a window, put it in a box for a bit to rest and then let it go.
Our monthly library visits supplied me with stacks (from the tip my hands to under my chin) of books on plants, animals, rocks and the weather. I would run to the nonfiction section. I watched PBS specials like most children watch cartoons.
On weekends my family hiked, trails were tracked, and earned a badge on a hiking stick. During the hikes I learned to identify trees. Look at the leaves, the twigs, the overall silhouette. Dad quizzed me. Not just the common name, the scientific names as well.
When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say ‘Park Ranger,’ or as I grew older, it was ‘Naturalist.’ In high school, my career aptitude test declared I should be a landscape architect.
In my teens I began collecting plants. Houseplants at first, gathered around my bedroom window. I loved carnivorous plants and would visit greenhouses looking to add more. Next were the cactus. I grew them from seed and cuttings. I killed more than I kept alive and I learned. Less water, more water, this got eaten, this is doing well.
To pay my college tuition I worked in the Meijer Garden Center. I was surrounded by plants. I helped people, don’t get this, have you looked at this one, this is easy to grow. I loved it.
Thinking I had it all figured out, I started college with a major of Botany. Classes on identification, on habitats, on structures. When I transferred to the University of Cincinnati I had to change my major to Biology. I also changed my name and married my husband the year before I graduated. I finished in 2005 with a B.S. in Biology with a focus in Ecology.
But I wasn’t going to be a naturalist.
I worked as a microbiologist after college, despite not taking a single microbiology course. I did contract work, 6 months here and there. I hated it. It was inside a lab, no windows. I came home to my yard and filled it with plants. And then the housing market burst.
My contracts were getting more difficult to find, and I wanted out of microbiology. I had to choose, do what I love as a job, or have the money for a hobby that I loved. I needed a stable career and working in medicine was stable. I started my masters in Nursing in an accelerated program and finished in 2012 with a MSN in Nursing. I was going to work with children.
As a nurse I worked in pediatric neurology and then in the operating room. It was exciting, but on-call shift work does not allow you to garden. You are either asleep, working, or wishing you were asleep. So, I now have a desk job, which gives me plenty of time to spend outside.
The other day my husband came outside looking for me. He checked the backyard first, and didn’t see me so he called the dog over. She led him straight to me and he began to laugh. He said that my legs were covered in mud and the seat of my pants had grass stains – and that it meant I was having a great time. He said I am always happy when I’m muddy.