Mary Horvath, 51, is a gardener at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, but working outside among nature has not always been her job nor is it the only thing she currently has an interest in.

When Mary Horvath began studying horticulture at Tarrant County College, her friends asked her what she would do with her degree.

“Well I don’t know, maybe I’ll get a job at the Botanical Gardens,” she told them.

After earning her associate degree, Horvath did just that.  She has now been working as a gardener at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden for more than 10 years.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever had in my life that I’ve really loved,” she said.

Horvath has lived in Fort Worth her entire life.  She has two daughters, Lori and Michelle, and three granddaughters.

Before working at the Botanic Garden, Horvath worked in the food industry at restaurants such as Dairy Queen and also worked at the Star Telegram for almost 20 years in several positions including working in the mailroom and as a file clerk.

“I was the classic underachiever,” she said.

Horvath had attended college, but had not finished a degree. In 2000, she returned to school and accomplished her goal of earning a degree in horticulture with an emphasis in design and also made the dean’s list every semester she attended TCC.

Originally, she said she wanted to become a veterinary technician, because she loved working with animals.  However, the education required for that position would have required more travel time to school, which meant too much time away from her family.

Realistically, a job in horticulture was the right fit for her.  She said she has always enjoyed the outdoors and likes her job because she gets to be outside in the gardens.

“I went from an office environment to a completely outdoor environment, which actually was what I always wanted,” Horvath said. “I never really liked working inside.”

In addition to her education at TCC, she apprenticed under a senior gardener at the Botanic Garden who studied in Japan and specializes in the Japanese-style gardens.  Horvath’s job tasks include trimming limbs, collecting trash, cleaning the pools and applying fertilizers, but she specializes in pruning and shearing. 

“It’s pretty much anything you can imagine doing in a yard, except we do it all day long and it involves four or five people in the process,” she said.

Additionally, she acts as the fish curator for the Botanic Garden, a job that involves coordinating fish donations and quarantining and monitoring the fish when they arrive.

However, she said her favorite part was educating visitors about the gardens.  In addition to her regular responsibilities, Horvath gives educational talks on topics such as water quality and the nitrogen cycle.

But Horvath’s interest in nature and animals did not start at the Botanic Garden.

For about 15 years, she has volunteered at an animal shelter in North Richland Hills. Before that, she also volunteered at the aquarium at the Fort Worth Zoo, where she learned about fish care.

“It’s really cool because the volunteer work I’ve done has actually benefitted my ability to do my job,” she said.

In addition to her job, Horvath also works under a state-licensed wildlife rehabilitator to help injured animals.  She said the work commonly involves caring for and bottle-feeding baby squirrels.

Horvath’s interest in nature and wildlife made the Botanic Garden a great place for her to work, but it comes with challenges. She said she considers the most challenging part of the job to be the physical aspect as well as working out in the weather.

“The summer was brutal, working in the 100 degree heat,” she said.

The job is physical, but rewarding, she said.

She said she and her co-workers have a close-knit relationship, which helps make the job easier.

“It’s kind of like a big family,” she said. “And like a family we have little squabbles and tiffs, but eventually everyone gets along again.”

“It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but at the same time it’s been the most satisfying and fulfilling because every day someone comes up to me and thanks me for the job I do out here,” she said.  “I like to think that we make everyone’s day just a little bit brighter.”