Paula Hildebrandt Bio
With a mule and plow, my father cultivated the family tobacco and cotton fields early in the morning before heading off to school in North Carolina. He completed the eighth grade. With a young girl's strength and nimbleness, my mother climbed lauhala trees in Hawaii to harvest the leaves so she could weave them into hats. She traded the hats for school clothes from the traveling merchant who stored his wares in the trunk of his car. My mother completed the twelfth grade.
I once pulled the ten foot long cotton harvesting bag over my tiny eight year old shoulder to play at picking cotton in the North Carolina cotton fields, but it wasn’t at the expense of attending school. And while I learned to weave the long and scratchy tobacco leaves onto a six foot long wooden dowel to hang high in barn rafters for drying, it wasn’t to trade for school clothes.
While my parents worked in nature, I was able to play and enjoy the outdoors; reveling in the joy of being surrounded by plants as only a child does. My parents’ diligent work as children themselves passed a valuable gift to me and I was provided the gift of choice; to find and explore my personal interests in plants. I picked leaves and pressed them in books to dry, planted a baby barrel cactus in my backyard and hugged the huge tree trunk of a Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) that towered taller than my father. Picking cotton and weaving tobacco leaves had been a simple singular experience to me; it did not become a way of life as it had for my parents.
As a young girl at barbecue gatherings, I recall listening to my parents reminisce about doing homework by kerosene light after building the wood fire to steam dinner’s rice, and the frigid outhouse trips on winter nights. To me, the stories were magical and a transference of knowledge that hard work and perseverance did indeed pay off. Following my interest in plants had been laid within my reach; built upon their own childhood hardships, at once an investment and an empowerment.
From their determination I learned consistency and dedication would also lead me to my goals. While working at Hewlett-Packard, I grew Giant Sunflowers (Helianthus giganteus) and vegetables in their onsite organic garden, continued little horticulture projects that turned redwood saplings gifted at the local fair into trees towering above the roofline and was transformed into a grower and propagator while reading "Making Things Grow" by Thalassa Cruso (1969).
Now, while completing my Landscape Architecture Design degree at Southwestern College, I am a student worker in the onsite campus garden; South Bay Botanic Garden. The passion for gardens that blossomed when I first entered the fully designed and matured backyard of our new home at the age of nine literally bore fruit when I formed Your Giving Garden at Southwestern College, and led the group to receive the Jaguar Outstanding Service Award for a group Spring of 2019. I’m wearing the sunglasses in the photo below and Mark Valen, the Landscape and Nursery Technology department head, is third from the left.
I continued learning about plants as a member of the San Diego Horticulture Society and California Rare Fruit Tree Growers. I've volunteered at their annual garden tours and an entire weekend at fundraising events. I have been QWEL (Quality Water Efficient Landscaper) certification since 2016 and a Balboa Park Tree Steward since Fall 2018. I have maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and was a Club Officer for the Landscape Architecture Club as an Inter-Club Council Representative for three semesters. As a student worker in the South Bay Botanic Garden, I arranged a meeting between the Veteran’s Group and Home Depot for much needed supplies and assisted in setting up their area for vegetable gardening. My student project resulted in propagating the endangered but unprotected salt march ground cover, Palmer’s Seaheath (Frankenia palmeri). My Solid Food Waste Collection Internship with Sustainable Energy Innovations culminatedin Southwestern College taking a leadership position in sustainability within the higher education field. As a result, Southwestern College became the first and remaining school accepted into the City of Chula Vista Commercial Food Waste Collection Program.
Receiving the Mission Hills Garden Club Scholarship eased financial obligations while living on a fixed income and I am blessed as the sole caretaker for my mother who just turned eighty eight years old. It has allowed me to continue to represent Southwestern College as a leader in sustainable landscape practices and healthy well designed landscapes.
My plan is to transfer to the San Diego State University Sustainability program. But before that, I am in the first stages of coordinating a student led garden club in tandem with Southwestern College. There is so much opportunity and desire for garden therapy, it will be an exciting journey.
Paula's thank you note to the club.