Agriculture is an Art

Starting his floral career at the age of three, Russell Plowman had a clear-cut plan for what he wanted to do with his life. As an instructor of horticulture in Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, Plowman has been able to follow his passions and share them with his students.

“I knew early on what I was going to do. I didn’t have a choice,” Plowman said. “One of my first memories is planting Marigolds.”

Plowman’s interest in plants and flowers led him to Texas Tech to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ornamental horticulture. After college, Plowman opened his own floral shop and worked as a designer for many years. This led him to become a Certified Floral Designer and join the American Institute of Floral Design. Eventually, he returned to Texas Tech to work on his Ph.D. and serve as an instructor in the plant and soil science department.

“I knew early on what I was going to do. I didn’t have a choice.”

Russell Plowman

With all that comes with being a student, teacher and researcher, he let go of his certification and membership with AIFD to focus on teaching and earning his degree. Plowman still exercises his creative side by doing landscapes for clients around Lubbock, as well as teaching his popular floral design class.

“Word of mouth,” Plowman said when asked how he finds clients. “Each client helps me bring something new to teaching.”

Plowman has been instrumental in developing the curriculum for the floral design program. What once was only a lab for horticulture students is now an always full, creative arts credit open to anyone in the university. Plowman fought hard to get the class to where it is, writing and rewriting proposals, and finding what would work to make the class a well-rounded experience for students at Texas Tech.

“It took two semesters of working to rewrite it and getting it submitted,” Plowman said. “One of the comments was ‘nothing creative could ever come out of agriculture.’”

Despite what people have said about agriculture and art, agriculture can be creative and it often offers better experiences while learning.

“I took art as a creative arts credit and all I had to do was identify some paintings,” Kinnidy Markum, a former student said. “With floral design I felt like I was actually putting the concepts I learned about to use.”

Kolbie Tyler, Russell Plowman, and Alicia Thomas
Russell Plowman (middle) with Texas Tech graduate student, Kolbie Tyler (left) and instructor of horticulture, Alicia Thomas (right). Picture provided by Kolbie Tyler.

Each semester Plowman fills classrooms with students eager to learn about floral design. Thanks to its popularity, classes have increased over the years.

“When I took the class there were 20 students a year and now there are 80 or more a semester,” teaching assistant Kolbie Tyler said.

The lectures address the artistic concepts and history of floral design, while the lab teaches care and design techniques as students work with live flowers. Thanks to Plowman, those who take the class are eligible to become a certified floral designer in Texas.

“I want to teach an upper-level class soon as a service-learning class,” Plowman said. “That way, once they know techniques and designs, they can turn around and do a presentation to local florist.”

After each semester, Plowman modifies and improves the classroom experience for students. Plowman wants to give students the best learning experience that he can provide.

“I have proposed that I will teach every other class, and in between me, have other designers,” Plowman said. “I think that would just be wonderful.”

Russell Plowman giving feedback to a student during the floral design class’s design showcase. Picture provided by Kolbie Tyler.

Plowman recently became a second time Certified Floral Designer and member of the American Institute of Floral Design, which has never been done before.

“I reapplied and did it all over again,” Plowman said.

To become a CFD, you must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of floral design and be able to pass that onto students. Becoming a member of AIFD is no easy feat either, as it is one of the highest honors to have in the floral design industry. Each member must go in front of a jury of peers who judge their floral designs.

“You’re competing with all different kinds of people from all over the world,” Plowman said. “You go into a room; you don’t know what kind of flowers you’re going to get or design you’re going to have to make.”

While creativity and thorough knowledge of concepts is important, AIFD is committed to education as well.

“AIFD is all about education and treating floral design as an art,” Plowman said.

Being committed to continue getting accreditations to better serve students is just one of the many reasons Texas Tech is lucky to have an instructor like Russell Plowman.

“I’ve planted something my whole life,” Plowman said.

While Plowman could take the easy road and focus on one task at a time, he is committed to his aspirations as well as being the best instructor he can be.