Staff Spotlight: Brian Thompson

Brian Thompson’s interest in gardening started at an early age when his parents gave him a dozen gladiolus corms for his seventh birthday.  As they grew and bloomed, he began to record the varying plant heights, size and number of florets, and the impact of the environmental factors, such as his brother’s lawnmower, on their success.  As other plants, bulbs, and seeds were added to that early garden, an almost equal fascination took hold with the accompanying data logs, site maps, and charts one could prepare.  Collecting catalogs and, as his allowance grew, books on gardening topics naturally followed.

This nerdish interest in horticulture and its accompanying literature took a long time to coalesce into a career.  After growing up in the Seattle area, the pleasure of recording and organizing observations from the natural world predisposed him to a combined math and astronomy degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.  Much later, he discovered it was amongst librarians he would find kindred souls in the quest for discovering, organizing, preserving, and sharing knowledge.

On the horticulture side, Brian made do with houseplants, aquaria, and borrowed garden space for many years.  In the late 1980s, he discovered the horticulture program at Edmonds Community College and took many classes, establishing several professional friendships that continue today.  He also discovered the Washington Park Arboretum and became a weekend manager at the Graham Visitors Center, working for what is now the UW Botanic Gardens.  While studying for his Masters of Library Science at the UW in the early 1990s, it was an easy step to begin volunteering at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.  The various career threads came together when he joined the Miller staff in 1997, a process that continued when he became manager of the library in 2007.

While working at the Arboretum, Brian discovered several favorite places, but the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden still tops the list.  This is in part because his favorite woody plants are in the Witch Hazel family, especially in the genera Hamamelis, Fothergilla, and Parrotia.  His early birthday gift sparked a lifelong love of bulbs and other geophytes.  Many of these he enjoys in the gardens at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

During the rebuilding of Merrill Hall after the 2001 fire, Brian developed a special interest in the preservation and organization of the Miller Library’s print collections.  This led to his receiving a secondary title of Curator of Horticultural Literature in 2005.  Developing and promoting these collections – through presentations, written reviews, and serving on national committees that present awards to the best in new garden literature – is a significant part of his work today.  In recent years, he has concentrated on the rare book collection, so that his favorite place in all of the Botanic Gardens is the Miller Library’s rare book room, a small but climate-controlled room filled with treasures that he is developing ways to share with others.

Today, Brian still enjoys gardening, attending concerts and theater, traveling (especially to visit plant nurseries and public gardens), playing early European music on recorders with friends, and garden photography.  If you look at photographs of his garden, you’ll discovered that he still grows gladiolus.

3 Responses to “Staff Spotlight: Brian Thompson”

  1. Jessica Farmer

    Posting a reply from Brian Thompson to Nathaniel Loveday: “I don’t remember my parents giving me directions regarding the garden, but both were quite analytical and good at keeping records, so I must have had some exposure that influenced me.”

  2. I read Mr. Thompsons background, and I wonder, did his parents give him direction or did he record his first gardens progress without any influence?

  3. Walt Bubelis

    Brian brings so much to meetings such as the Arboretum Bulletin – always full of great ideas and leads.