The Flower Whisperer
A Texas Tech bright, shining legend
Story and Photos by Colleen Monroe
Upon entering Judith Wilmington’s office, students are immediately greeted by her friendly smile, the same smile many experience their first day of floral design class as she radiates with warmth and love. Like a flower herself, she is bright, happy and vibrant. It’s appropriate her home at Texas Tech University is in the Horticulture Gardens.
Wilmington began teaching floral design and managing the Tech Greenhouse in 1999, a dream job as she describes it. From the time she started, she began working to promote and revamp the Greenhouse.
“I looked at it as a special project,” Wilmington said. “We called it the secret garden because a lot of work had gone on, and nobody knew about it. Plus, we’re slightly hidden.”
By the early 2000s the horticulture department had expanded significantly. The university spent $200,000 fixing the greenhouse. They added a new classroom, several labs in order to support the number of students, and added the Flower Show for Floral Design.
“The flower show is a wonderful advance for the school of agriculture. It shows a variety of things you can do in the college,” said Wilmington.
“The college is special because it’s not huge. You are a person. You really have an identity, and I feel our atmosphere is open and friendly.”
Mallory Dyess, a recent agricultural communications graduate, said Wilmington was one of the friendliest professors she had during her time at Tech.
“Her passion for flowers and design came through during her classes,” Dyess said. “I could tell she thoroughly enjoyed teaching us the subject and managing the greenhouse.”
What Wilmington said she enjoys most is time spent working with her students.
“When teaching floral design, the best is when a student turns around with a look on their face and says, ‘I get it,’ and they light up. That’s the neatest thing,” said Wilmington.
Christina Conway, a Tech alumna, remembers her time in floral design.
“Judith had such a great attitude about designing that it made me want to appreciate flowers the way she does and create something I would be proud of,” Conway said. “This was a class where I could go and enjoy myself; it wasn’t about making an A.
“She made it a class where we could all be creative and enjoy flowers in a completely different form.”
Appreciating flowers is something Wilmington has been doing since she was a child in Denver, Colo.
“From the time I was a tiny kid, I loved flowers,” Wilmington said. “I grew up gardening with my grandmother.”
“My love of flowers just grew bigger. I have a pretty positive attitude and, flowers give me that,” she said with a laugh. “Some people love dogs; I love flowers.”
Love for flowers was passed down to Wilmington and has been passed down another generation to her sons James, Michael and Robert, who all enjoyed gardening as kids. Wilmington and her husband, Orville, of 50 years are proud to share 10 grandchildren now who are dabbling in floral design, as well.
Wilmington graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 1997 and was able to share some of her time on campus with her son, James.
“It was a delight to be on campus with my son,” she said. “My kids are so encouraging and so proud.”
She said one of her proudest days was her own graduation. Her sons and six of the grandchildren were there, dressed in red and black with their guns up, supporting their mother and grandmother.
Wilmington plans to retire in December after 11 years teaching floral design and managing the greenhouse in order to enjoy her family more and remain doing the things she loves like floral design and other hobbies.
Wilmington said she wants to put together a family history book for her children and grandchildren so they will know exactly where they came from and who their family members are.
Wilmington will also continue doing photography and writing poetry, which she makes bookmarks from and sells for a small profit.
In her spare time she will volunteer at several flower shops on the weekends to teach floral design or answer customer questions on the subject. She said she wants to help people with plants because horticulture has been so good to her, and she wants to spread that knowledge to others.
Many students, faculty and staff are sad Judith will no longer be working in CASNR, but most feel proud to have been able to take her classes or simply know her. She gave most a newfound love for flowers that many would not have discovered if not for her own enthusiasm for the subject. Just like a flower, she has brightened many lives and will continue to do so with all those that cross her path in the future.