Guest Post: From Finance to Flora & Forestry

Sometimes a chance in encounter with something as ordinary as a magazine photograph can indeed change your life. Photo by Van Chaplin for Southern Living magazine.


This month’s featured giveaway is My City Tree Cares for Me by  Margaret Hall Spencer. As with all giveaway authors, I request a guest post to run during the month.

For this one, Margaret elected to talk about her personal/professional journey. It’s a story that will resonate, I think, with a lot of readers–especially those of us gals at mid-life learning to listen to our inner voices.

I’m not one of those lucky people who knew at an early age what I wanted to do with my life. I am, however, one of the lucky people who eventually found my passion and was able to make it my career.

When I got out of college, I fell into a nice job in the insurance industry with a good company, boss, co-workers and salary. I was happy there for 14 years until the company was purchased by a larger firm and sent many of us looking for new jobs. I decided that I would reevaluate my career as I had no strong desire to work for another insurance broker.

One day, I was looking through a Southern Living magazine when a picture and its accompanying article caught my attention and changed my life. The photo, shown here, was by Van Chaplin and the article described the Texas Master Gardener program. Unexpectedly, the words “I’m doing that!” came out of my mouth. I guess you could say it was a calling. It hit me that hard.

I immediately enrolled in the Master Gardener program in my county and loved it. I took extra classes, volunteered extra hours and read everything related to gardening and horticulture that I could get my hands on. The day of our class on perennials, I sat captivated as Dr. William Welch gave his presentation. He showed slide after slide of beautiful gardens he had either visited or designed. Then he showed a slide of the same picture that had caught my eye months earlier in Southern Living. He had written the article. I shared my story with him, telling him how much it meant to me, and he soon became my mentor and friend.

Then life threw me a challenge that would ultimately make me stronger. My husband told me that he wanted to be married to a successful business women, not someone who was “happy planting a bunch of stupid flowers.” Well, not wanting to be married to someone who would describe flowers as “stupid” and who, I would soon discover, didn’t think being married should keep him from dating other women, I filed for divorce. This left me with a dilemma in my career: follow my passion or go back to a stable job in insurance. There was no doubt; I followed my heart.

Dr. Welch continued to assist me throughout my job search, keeping a lookout for openings and serving as a reference for my interviews. The day after I was offered a job managing the landscape for a large master-planned community, I saw him at a program he coordinated. When he saw me, he said, “You look so happy. I can tell you got the job.” As we stood talking, someone else came up to say hello to Dr. Welch.

It was the lady from the photo I saw in the magazine.

Sometimes, God puts an exclamation point on life to let us know we got it right.

To learn more about Margaret Hall Spencer’s book, My City Tree Cares for Me, on her Facebook book page. Note that she also runs a landcape and arborcultural consulting firm near Houston, Streamside Green.

Finally, don’t forget to register for the drawing here at


  1. What a wonderful, inspiring story! I enrolled in the Master Gardener program when our youngest was still a baby, when I was sleep deprived, freelance writing in the middle of the night, and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was the best decision I ever made–and also led me to my own garden-related business. Congratulations to you! Can’t wait to read your book! And–thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Heartwarming story Margaret,

    I also take the liberty of wishing you well with your personnel life…may you soon find the special someone who shares your love , passion and commitment to trees and flora.



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