Intern Testimonials

Intern Testimonials

Read about the experiences our interns have enjoyed!


Will Billmeyer: 2021 Intern

Will is now studying to complete his degree program.

My time at Tagawa Greenhouse was an invaluable part of my education. During my six-month internship, not only was I able to apply all that I had learned from my degree program, but learned just as much, if not more, than I had in the classroom alone. Although my education had well-prepared me for a career in the horticulture industry, there truly is nothing like hands on experience in the field.

 At first, I was hesitant to move halfway across the country for an internship, but I was surprised to by how much knowledge I gained from the location alone, Colorado having unique microclimates, multiple hardiness zones, and unique issues related to elevation that gave me a chance to learn about different natural ecosystems and sustainability practices.

The first four months of my internship was spent in production of young plants at the main facility in Brighton, Colorado, where I started in seeding and was able to witness the progression of the crops until they were shipped out. The majority of my time was spent under one of their head growers that oversaw germinating seedlings. From her, I learned much about the differing cultural needs of various annuals. Through both experience and detailed explanation of why we perform specific tasks, I was able to learn about irrigation, plant growth regulators, and environmental controls within a large-scale greenhouse.

In a range full of stock plants, I got hands-on experience identifying common greenhouse pests and diseases, applying biologicals, properly pruning herbaceous plants, and testing soil EC and pH. My classes had prepared me somewhat for these tasks, but I was grateful to be able to apply this knowledge in the field. Although I was unable to visit the facility where most cutting and sticking of plants occurred due to Covid-19 restrictions, I did get to spend time in the stock range and watch the cutting process on a much smaller scale and was able to care for the rooting plants.

My main task throughout the week was aiding in data collection for a patented research project. I found the problem-solving aspect enjoyable and appreciated the opportunity to learn through trial and error, as well as develop more detail-oriented techniques for handling seedlings. It was exciting to see the results of my work from growing week to growing week and be able to document it. When it came to careers, I often thought about working in a research lab, but it was eye-opening to be able to experience this type of work at a production greenhouse. It made me realize there were many more opportunities to do the things I was interested in, outside of academia. 

Tagawa Greenhouse is much more than a production facility, as they also merchandise their products at big box stores, as well as their own garden center. Being able to experience a many different aspects of the industry was one of the things that drew me to Tagawa. Not only was I able to work in production, but I was able to follow their plants from shipping and distribution right into stores, where I had the opportunity to interact with the public on the retail side of things, merchandise and set up displays of our plants, and learn from experienced master gardeners at Tagawa Gardens. 

It was surprising how much I learned from my retail experience, having been a gardener myself for many years. I was able to see how the Tagawa name was synonymous with both quality and knowledge. Customers at retail chains knew that their plants came from Tagawa and would turn to the garden center for both more information and product. Every department at Tagawa Gardens had an expert in their area from whom I learned everything from how to prune a rose to how to help a customer find the right fertilizer for their needs and unique location.

Most years, Tagawa takes their interns to the ProGreen Expo, but due to Covid-19, the convention was online this year, but I was still given the time to attend the virtual panels and learn more about the green industry, the challenges of growing in Colorado, and new and developing greenhouse technology. I was able to watch lectures from CSU professors and see the type of research students were involved in at the university. 

After I complete my associate degree in Horticulture, I had determined that I wanted to go on and continue my education at a state university and being able to see the work done at CSU added another school for me to consider if I decide to leave Iowa. Tagawa helped put me in contact with a professor at CSU who gave me a tour of their trial gardens and arboretum, as well as introduce me to their wonderful Horticulture program.

Interning at Tagawa Greenhouse was an amazing opportunity. It gave me a better sense of the type of work in horticulture I enjoy and showed me where I could apply my interests. There are more careers that I am now considering than I was prior to my internship, as well as more contacts to help me when I finally take my place in the industry or continue my education. 

The six-month term was just long enough to see all sides of production and I wish I could have spent more time there, but I do have one more year to complete in my current educational program. My college was impressed with the internship program as well, and AFE allowed my instructor to visit and tour the facility. This fall, I will be talking to first-year students about my experiences at Tagawa and with AFE, encouraging more students to apply for the Vic & Margaret Ball Intern Scholarship. The distance was well worth the experience!

— Will Billmeyer

Pearl Aragon: 2020 Intern

Pearl has been promoted to Distribution Specialist.
2020 is definitely a year to remember. Not only did I turn 40 in the midst of a pandemic and witness a surge in the civil rights movement, but I left my previous career as a veterinary technician behind to start a new journey. Well… I guess a new chapter of my horticulture journey. I heard about the Tagawa internship during a greenhouse tour spring 2019. Having no experience in the green industry beside home gardening and watching a lot of PBS, I decided this internship would give me a wholistic view of some of the opportunities in the industry. Although I considered it risky, the opportunity was too great to pass up.

I started my rotation in production working under head grower Ashley in range A and D at North. I was eager but nervous to get started. Ashley explained the ins and outs of her responsibilities, goals of her position, and varieties of plants she was growing. She introduced me to the technique of watering plugs. It really is an art and her steady sweeping passes reminded me of a painter’s brush strokes.  I find my self practicing this technique when I water my garden at home. I learned how irrigating plugs followed the protocol of weighing trays at the beginning of the day and end of the day. I think it is great way to learn about irrigating properly and allows the irrigator more control over how much water the plugs will receive. Operating and calibrating the irrigation booms was another task I performed. I enjoyed setting it every time even if I mistakenly inputted the wrong number of passes or the incorrect length of watering. It forced me to think and use and develop my knowledge base. Ensuring that certain crops were receiving the correct concentration of feed was imperative to the timeliness of initial plant growth. I was soon in charge of irrigating houses ten, eleven, and twelve. In those houses sat the pentas, my soon-to-be archnemesis. I found the pentas to challenging in figuring out their irrigation needs. Compared to the other plants I was responsible for, I thought they were definitely the divas of the plug world. Their capacity for mistakes was small; too much or too little water equals slower germination and growth rate of an already long germination and initial growth, rinsing vegetation after irrigating with feed prevented burning, and keeping the humidity higher than the rest of the greenhouse were just few of the demands pentas had.  In the end I managed to get them through my six-week rotation with a ton of help and patience from Ashley and Fernando. I was fascinated by how much the plants used each day and night depending on the light, temperature and humidity, and how important it was to meeting goals of timely germination and moving to the next stage of their development. Irrigation was one of my favorite tasks. It gave me a lot of time to think and not think and to recover some emotional well-being after 18 years of the emotional roller coaster that is veterinary medicine.

Monitoring for pest pressure was another duty I performed weekly. Setting out bug cards and checking them four days later in range D allowed Ashley to tailor her IPM program to mitigate problem pests. Thrips, whitefly, aphids and fungus gnats seem to be the biggest problems. I learned that if you see parasitic wasps then there are likely aphids amongst the crop. The options for pest management ranged from biologicals to chemical with some having a more targeted approach and others were broad spectrum. The safety precaution protocols involving PPE and signage were also different for the types of product being applied. Ashley stressed the importance of following the guidelines to protect not just the applicators but other greenhouse staff coming into or through the range. Having a comprehensive IPM program ensures that the crop is growing properly and has the expected presentation that the consumer wants.

I finally got my hands dirty literally with the soil EC and pH testing. Once a week I would test the EC and pH of the soil for the ipomea varieties in range D. It was remarkable to use what I learned in my soil science class and apply it to a real-world situation.  These tests give the grower a sense of how well the plant is taking up nutrients. Too much feed led to elevated ECs. Elevated pH can inhibit nutrient uptake by the plant. These factors lead to a plant with poor quality and likely will not be ready in time to sell equating to loss of revenue. Corrections to irrigation and feed protocols can be made in a timely manner allowing the plant to recover and meet the sell date. It is amazing how fast a crop can be turned around just by finding the problem sooner and adjusting the program accordingly. I also learned that sometimes there is no turn around if the damage is too great, the quality too poor, or the pest is threatening other crops. The expense to try to reverse the damage may be too high especially if the crop ultimately fails. It is important to know when to wash your hands of it and move on.

My next rotation was in Operations at Foothills and Table Mountain. I equate my time with jimmie tags to that of a 6-week scavenger hunt where the prize is a lovely tray of flowers. Movement of the trays from greenhouse to greenhouse to North for shipment was quite the orchestrated process. Learning the plant variety names and general flow through the ranges was mindboggling. From afar it appeared chaotic and disorganized, but up close there was strategy and purpose. I was challenged daily to find the tray quickly and most importantly correctly. I witnessed the frustration when a tray was mis-pulled, and search began again. I felt that frustration when I was responsible for the wrong tray being tagged and the disappointment when the tray could not be found. Erica, a jimmie tag supervisor, worked very hard and had an amazing mental map of variety locations in the ranges. With a lot of her assistance, I was able to locate so many trays but also assess the quality of the tray and adjust if needed. Dwayne, responsible for organizing the shipment, explained in detail how the trays moved from dock to truck back to dock and how the legal changes of ownership coincide with that movement.  I also participated in the hand sticking line. My goal every time was to get faster by the end of my shift but also make sure it was done right. Shakila, the sticking supervisor, was a great help and had so much patience with the uncoordinated intern she was training. She had high expectations for the sticking line and knew how to motivate her team to work harder. I enjoyed listening to her stories of living in her home country and the diverse set of languages she spoke. She also helped evaluate trays when it came time to transplant to fill trays with deficiencies. I never became as fast as my fellow stickers but have a great appreciation of the work involved in the growing of the lovely flowers at the garden center. I learned the importance of unpacking shipments in an orderly fashion and organizing the product in a manner that eliminates wasted time later. Cuttings were organized in the cooler in the order that they were going to be planted which increases the efficiency of the hand sticking and auto-stick lines. Cosmo as the operations manager had organized efficient teams and adjusted duties based on the needs of the greenhouse.

At Table Mountain I worked under Matt, the operations manager. This location operated similarly than Foothills. Although smaller, there were teams with designated duties at certain times while also having all hand on deck approach at other times. I was moving empty racks off and on trucks, tagging and pulling trays for shipment, checking in trays for shipments and loading full racks on the truck. This week definitely tested my endurance and strength. Instead of focusing on a single task for the majority of my shift when I was at Foothills, here I did jimmie tags for an hour, then spent another two picking up, then unloaded empty racks, maybe followed by picking up again or putting down newly planted 6-packs. I gained a better understanding of the overall flow and big picture of the operations of the greenhouse locations.

I spent one day in distribution. Learning how the racks were organized on the dock in preparation for shipment to Home Depot added to the overall big picture of how the business operates. Building racks was challenging especially since I was the only English-speaker on the team. I delved deep to pull more Spanish from the dungeons of my brain. By this point in my internship I was hoping my Spanish would be better, but I do say I probably never used so much Spanish previously.

The flower roadshow with Costco rotation was my first retail merchandising experience. I learned the importance of product placement and rotation. This rotation reminded of pack of gunslingers coming through town causing a ruckus and leaving quickly. By the time I would get the racks consolidated, emptied, and taking the empty racks out back, the remaining racks would be in shambles. Perhaps this experience was tainted by the fact that COVID-19 made movement more of a struggle. Diane, my district manager, had wise words to guide me through the gauntlet. She assured me that Costco is a whirlwind normally and keeping the racks looking full is the goal. At times it will be impossible but to always try my best. She and my co-workers showed how to change up the displays and organization to improve customer flow and add a fresh look.  I did enjoy helping the customers pick out containers and educating them on how best to take care of their flowers, so they last the season.  I learned how important it was to make sure the containers look full and in flower.

The Home Depot rotation was also a whirlwind, but I think the pace was less intense. Lexus, my shift supervisor, explained the setup of the tables and how the product was supposed to be presented as well as the responsibilities of the replenishment team. I learned more about how a customer shops for bedding plants. I realized how placement impacted the sale of the product. Customers shop at Home Depot more frequently. It is important to refresh displays with new plants and have plants arranged so the customer can see the whole table. I did enjoy arranging the tables and the displays. I felt like I was doing a large-scale puzzle trying to fit enough colors and varieties to give a clean blocking appearance. Sarah, district manager, explained her merchandising strategies and stressed the importance of product rotation.

The Tagawa Garden Center rotation was a fun and refreshing rotation. I got to do one of my favorite things: talk about plants. I enjoyed sharing tips and ideas on container design, plant care, and plant placement. I also enjoyed observing the retail staff engage with the customers.  Customers of all skill level seemed to feel more comfortable asking questions knowing they would get a knowledgeable answer without judgement. Camilla taught us how to properly prune roses, which is skill that I will likely use at home and educate others on proper rose care. Dakota’s enthusiasm for houseplants was contagious. Being the manager for the department, he was a wealth of information. I think he really excited his customers about houseplants and gave them the tools to be confident that they could be the best houseplant caretakers. Overall the staff really knew their stuff. I enjoyed sharing in that passion for gardening as much as they did. The best moment of that rotation was the planting of the front bed at the Denver Broncos headquarters. Gere explained her design arrangement and the selection of plants. I really enjoyed contributing to the project.
The maintenance rotation was important because it showed me what it takes to maintain a greenhouse. I watched and participated in the flow of projects throughout the three days. I learned that a priority must be set in order to accomplish the maintenance and repair demands. Plans must be flexible, and staff training and experience is important. Having a good knowledge base, large skill set, and being creative is also necessary to complete a project. When replacing damaged polycarbonate panels on range A, Mario and Juan had to ensure they could make the repair without wasting the polycarb sheeting. A mistake in taking measurements or cutting the material equals a higher cost. I helped Mario with the cooling pad maintenance. We made sure the water output holes were clear and running down the cooling pad. Efficiently functioning cooling pads keeps the greenhouse from overheating and reduces water waste. I helped Juan paint the walls in range 3 and 4. Even though I ruined one pair of jeans and shoes, I had fun using the spray gun. I have never used one before. Juan did say he would never hire me to paint his house, which I can agree with. I guess I need more practice.
Administration gave the largest insight into how a greenhouse operation works. I learned how extensive the administrative stuff must be for the production and operations to succeed. I also learned how important a cohesive and thoughtful team is to the success of a company no matter the business. I was enlightened by how well everyone worked together and was overall happy and fulfilled. I cannot specifically say one area was more interesting or astonishing than another. The intern business project was exciting and challenging. The depth of the lesson was intriguing. Even though we did not quite finish the numbers, I learned about excel, spacing, crop costs, and revenues. It pointed to skills I have learned and have not learned. I do plan on finishing it on my own time. I cannot let excel beat me. I will learn how to use excel. More importantly, I have gained a huge understanding of what it takes to build, run, fund a greenhouse operation. That lesson is the most significant.

When asked what my plans are, I find it hard to answer. Before this internship, I was aiming for education. Now it has come an end and I feel like there is more that I want to do. I think that on my way to education I will touch on a lot of aspects in horticulture.  I think that will make me a better educator. Ultimately, I will be a small farmer growing a variety of veggies and cut flowers and tending to my chickens in southern Mississippi. I probably will give it all away because I love growing and that peace of mind has no monetary value. I expect this is more a retirement plan than a career plan, but we shall see. I have learned that planning is really only a guide, and nothing is set in stone. Always be ready for change. It inevitable; how you endure determines your success.

In conclusion, I learned a ton. Thank you to everyone along the way for your knowledge, encouragement, and patience. Thank you for taking a chance bringing this inexperienced old lady on. Please know that Tagawa is a great company and setting the example for others follow. I am honored to have been part of the company for a fraction of time. Take care and have fun. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses!!!

— Pearl Aragon

Sherman Hartman: 2020 Intern

When I found out that I had received the opportunity to come to Colorado to study floriculture in Tagawa’s internship program, I was beyond excited. I wasn’t sure what I would get to see and take part in before entering the program. Having heard of this program and Tagawa’s reputation, I knew I would see some new areas within the greenhouse industry that I had not seen before, and also see some new species being grown in this production setting. It is safe to say that my expectations of this program were surpassed, despite COVID-19 and all. Even as an intern I felt I was a part of this special team here at Tagawa that truly does put people and relationships right up there with the plant quality.

I enjoyed the first rotation in operations for several reasons. It was exciting to be working with young, seemingly fragile cuttings and propagules at the Foothills location. I felt a bit like I was welcoming all of the boxes of cuttings into the facility and tucking them into the cooler before being stuck soon after. Later in that rotation I helped with a lot of sticking and jimmy-tagging. Following this order of receiving/unboxing cuttings, prepping for sticking, sticking cuttings, and finally pulling the finished trays to ship really gave me a sort of bird’s eye view to each order and tray, and how plant material arrives and finished orders leave the greenhouse with every step in between (besides the actual growing/production tasks). In this rotation, I learned the importance of organization whether it be good inventory practices to know where orders are being grown, or a good sticking line setup for efficiency.

Also, during this rotation I got to see first-hand just how versatile and flexible a greenhouse operation should be. From seeing management helping to fix sticking machines and tray filling equipment, to having employees switch over to hand sticking auto-stick cuttings in a pinch, this sort of versatility seems ingrained in this business dealing with live plants. That versatility was interesting to see in person; and was somewhat reinforced by the two-man teams constantly either building racks and moving around both empty racks and full racks of freshly stuck trays. It was those kinds of positions I had been overlooking in the industry, so it was great to take part in even if only briefly.

Following the operations rotation, I spend some time in production. I assisted in range D at the North facility, essentially as an irrigator but also helping out with and learning about other grower and general tasks too. I felt fairly confident in my irrigation abilities going into this rotation, but it turned out I got a chance to really focus that skill and others during my time there. It became utterly clear how important water quality is, and I assisted in testing our different water sources while the head grower was away for a couple weeks. I learned how to take into account dry down time, weather, fertilization needs, and general time management when planning out irrigations. Prior to this internship, I had tried to grow crops on the dry side with several small groups for assignments back in the campus greenhouse. After being shown the specifics and getting help fine tuning my irrigator’s judgment and watering hand, I found myself growing dryer more successfully and realizing that I never really had to a legitimate extent before. I got to see first-hand how certain cultural practices like moisture management and temperature from a plant’s early stages, can make all the difference in the final product of a nice full, toned plant.

One learning curve I was chasing for a short period of time was irrigating while taking into account the increasingly intense Colorado sun and heat during the spring months. Though I had a fair amount of moisture management experience in more humid climates, had never grown any plants in such an arid climate before being in production in range D. I believe it was mid-March when the temperatures and sun intensity began to rise beyond my anticipation leading to alarmingly fast dry down rates. I did not kill or really damage any plants during this time. Ashley instructed me to simply give more water to each container at each irrigation, and to walk my houses more frequently to ensure nothing gets too dry before I become aware of it. Even with that advice, it took me some time to adjust to these changing conditions. Nevertheless, this was an excellent learning opportunity for how one should take a holistic approach to plant care, including weather directly influencing irrigation practices. I deeply enjoyed this rotation because of the responsibility that lies upon the irrigator, and how one’s knowledge and good judgement can keep a crop on track to finish beautifully.

In my retail ready rotation, I got to spend time at a Costco, several Home Depots, and at the Tagawa Garden Center. These venues are different in how they sell their plants, the kinds of plants sold and containers, and generally the sort of customers that shop at these different places. At the Costco, I noticed most everything was in large containers and in pre-arranged designs, though there were other crops like various herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and succulents, and some 12-packs. These customers seemed least interested in the involvement with the plants and would rather prefer a large container in full bloom ready to enjoy. The Home Depot selection was much wider, with many different species in various packs, small pots, hanging baskets, and also large containers. These customers seemed excited about buying packs of annuals to plant themselves either in containers of their own or in their flowerbeds. Many people would buy a wide variety of plants for their home as well as other gardening equipment from the Home Depot.

While working at the Tagawa garden center, there were a variety of different customers. Some customers didn’t know a petunia from a canna, and others had specific questions regarding different species’ preferences, plant care, and remedies for insects or diseases. This facility carried the widest variety of crops among all three retail locations with different sections for annuals, roses, vegetables, houseplants, perennials, and a nursery section. The garden center had so many different species that it seemed rare that a customer’s request could not be fulfilled. No matter who the customer was, it was fun to gauge peoples plant knowledge to be able to assist them accordingly. At the Costco and Home Depots, there generally seemed to be two groups of customers, those who buy a container because of how it looks right now, and those who buy it for how they anticipate the arrangement to perform throughout its life. I enjoyed helping customers at all of these locations, though the Garden center likely taught me the most, as they essentially have experts in each of the different areas mentioned above.

During the Coronavirus outbreak, the world seemed to be a completely new arena with potential infection lurking around every turn. Though it was surely frightening, especially in the beginning when nobody knew very much for certain, the central point of my focus of the Covid-19 outbreak here is not the fear it invoked, but rather Tagawa’s handling of it. Early on during late February and March, I thought that Tagawa might close down even if only temporary. This did not happen for several reasons. Firstly, this company falls under the umbrella of Agriculture. Also, serious precautions were taken at all Tagawa facilities in attempt to reduce the spread including mandatory masks and social distancing, and rigorous sanitation across all facilities. Though a few individuals within the company did test positive, sufficient precautions were taken so that the company was able to stay open and operate near full capacity throughout.

By mid-March, masks were deemed mandatory at all Tagawa facilities and interfacility travel was drastically reduced. At the same time, the maintenance employees found new tasks of walking around and spraying commonly touched surfaces with disinfectant. Bottles of disinfectant were never out of sight, and the head of maintenance even sent me home with a couple to keep the house as clean as possible. When Colorado instituted a stay at home order, all employees were given a document proving that they were essential employees at an essential business, in case anyone was stopped by police. Some rules even changed so that those who might have contracted the virus could receive more paid sick days to deter anyone who might have it from spreading it further within the company. Though the fear continues to linger about contracting the virus, Tagawa seemed to do everything in their power to keep all employees safe. Despite the fact that it was in Tagawa’s best interest to take every precaution possible, I am deeply grateful to have been with a company who cares about their employees’ safety during such a volatile time.

After having completed the internship program, I feel much more floriculture oriented in my career outlook. My time spent in the greenhouse and in all areas of this company have helped me to be much more prepared for any position I may enter, especially those within green industries. From here I will take all I have learned and most likely enter a greenhouse production position within the year following my college graduation. This may likely begin with an irrigator position or as part of a team performing general greenhouse labor. Another area of horticulture I am considering is nursery crop production. No matter where I end up, this program will have surely aided my professional and intellectual development to help me get there and with my performance in any such position.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in the Tagawa Greenhouse internship program very much so. I learned more in these last 6 months than I thought I ever could. I found great pleasure learning about aspects of the greenhouse industry that I was previously unaware of. The program is set up in a way that allows interns to get a feel for the seasonal nature of the industry, as well as the ability to gain work experience in many different aspects of this business’s inter-workings. To say I am grateful for this opportunity, and my time here would be an understatement and I would sincerely recommend this internship program to all horticulture students interested in floriculture.

— Sherman Hartman
​​Contact Human Resources

​Contact Human Resources