The seeds to a career in horticulture were planted in Erin Aguiar as a teenager.
Aguiar worked at Scenic Nursery in Modesto growing up in the Central Valley. She studied horticulture at Modesto Junior College, and later at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before graduating in 2010.
While there, Aguiar twice received the Arnold D. Haskell scholarship from Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar. She spent two summers interning in the gardens before being hired full time.
Now it has all come full circle. Aguiar manages that summer internship program, and her vision and influence at the 2.2-acre garden on Coast Highway keeps getting larger and larger.
She was recently promoted to the position of horticulture director at the botanical showplace.
Aguiar, 37, has served as Sherman’s horticulture manager since 2015. She said she is constantly seeking ways to channel her enthusiasm for horticulture, learning how to share it with visitors to the nonprofit garden.
“We want people to feel the need to come back often,” Aguiar said. “Gardens, by nature, change with the seasons and change from year to year. We want to guide our garden to always offer something new. Every time our guests or members come in, there’s something interesting, something new to look at.”
The gardens continue to grow. Aguilar said she’s excited about the introduction of Sherman Library & Gardens’ new education department, headed up by Catherine Dickinson.
As for the horticulture department, Aguiar manages a staff of five full-time employees, but she recognizes the gardens wouldn’t thrive without the more than 100 volunteers and about 40 docents who work there.
“We’re really blessed,” said Aguiar, who lives in Santa Ana with her husband David and their 4-year-old son. “One thing that sets our garden apart is that it’s meticulously manicured. Other public gardens and arboretums are acres and acres. It’s just a different scale. We’re so small that we really have the opportunity to make everything look perfect, or at least try to.”
It is her creative vision that sets Aguiar apart, said Sherman Library & Gardens communications and venue manager Beverly Morgan.
Last fall, Sherman Library & Gardens had to pivot away from its popular Creatures of the Night family event due to coronavirus protocols. Aguiar and her staff helped cook up a replacement called Eerie Evenings in the Gardens.
“We had a ‘man eating plant,’” Morgan said. “You went into this pop-up tent one at a time, and it was Erin’s husband eating a bowl of salad. Then we had a ‘palm reader,’ and it was a potted palm with a pair of glasses on and holding a book. It was just really cute and whimsical and silly, and something for kids of all ages. She comes up with all of these ideas.
“She is the creative genius behind this place. Everybody’s talented and has their own wheelhouse of expertise, but Erin conceptualizes these events that just engage the community.”
Scott LaFleur, executive director of Sherman Library & Gardens, said it was an easy call to promote Aguiar. He called her a respected leader and creative force.
“I look forward to seeing Erin raise the bar on the art of horticulture here at Sherman Gardens,” he said.
Aguiar said since the gardens are outdoors, the staff has been able to adjust well to COVID-19. The challenges that were presented, including a shutdown of a couple of months early on in the pandemic, have not frustrated her but instead provided an opportunity.
“I like problem solving and I like figuring out puzzles,” she said. “Once I got over the panic of it and learned to adapt to it, it was an interesting challenge.”
Sherman Library & Gardens has been open since 1966, but Aguiar said she’s excited to be leading an expansion into something bigger and better.
“For our first 50 years, we were a nice place to visit, but it was limited and kind of a secret garden,” she said. “I feel like what this promotion means for me and the organization is that we’re maturing to offer more, to challenge ourselves to really be a mainstay in Orange County.”
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