By Elizabeth Rahe
A box of assorted coleuses arrived in April, spurring Paul Milsom to get into his garden and work on his summer display, interspersing the vibrant-hued plants with silvery dusty millers to make the colors pop.
“I am particularly fond of coleuses because of the huge array of colors, shapes and sizes,” he says. “They can be used all year round and tweaked to continually provide great displays.”
Milsom, 47, the director of horticulture for Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach, doesn’t mind bringing his work home. Indeed, he says his job is also his hobby. Named to the post in January, Milsom tends the roughly two-acre urban oasis and its collection of nearly 300 rare palms, cycads and native plants. The vegetation is interspersed with dramatic sculptures created by Norton in this sanctuary that includes her art studio and house, where she lived from 1948 until her death in 1982.
Raised in a gardening family – both his father and grandfather were gardeners – Milsom earned his degree in marine biology from the University of Wales and worked as a marine biologist before moving to the United States and returning to the family profession. Not surprisingly, he especially enjoys refining the garden’s water features, gilding them with water lilies and koi. He also likes discussing the garden’s intricacies with visitors, occasionally sharing pearls that seem to have application in the broader world.
“Planning and recording is of utmost importance,” he says when asked for advice. “When gardening, never plan for tomorrow, always plan for the future.”
Milsom is doing just that, working on improving the garden’s aesthetics and increasing community engagement, all the while following the “Principles for the Gardens” formulated by Norton’s friend and consultant, Sir Peter Smithers, in 1988. It’s a very busy job that Milsom is managing singlehandedly, but he still finds time to tend those coleuses and dusty millers at home in Parkland, where he lives with his wife, Michelle, and their two children.
“Gardening is like many other things in life … vigilance is extremely important. Better to spend 20 minutes every day in the garden rather than four hours once a month. So much in a garden can change in a relatively short period of time.”