Meet Smithsonian Gardens New Director
Smithsonian Gardens (SG) is pleased to announce that Joy (Kaminsky) Columbus, most recently the Vice President of Horticulture at the new Houston Botanic Garden, has been hired as the fifth Director of Smithsonian Gardens. Joy has dedicated twenty years to a career in public gardens, working at sites in New York, Ohio, Illinois and, most recently, Texas. She’s always known she wanted to work outside and is a self-confessed plant nerd who loves to share plants with people and “see the fireworks go off in their eyes.” When asked why she was excited about becoming SG’s new director she didn’t hesitate to respond, “Smithsonian Gardens reaches over 25 million people a year. Imagine the opportunities available to reach so many people in the gardens. It is a wonderful gift.”
Joy is a life-long learner; her quest for knowledge resonates with the Smithsonian’s mission for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Joy knows her new job will keep her busy; she can’t wait to explore all of the available resources and tremendous opportunities that the Smithsonian as a whole and Smithsonian Gardens in particular have to offer. She is eager to learn from her new SG and SI colleagues. Everywhere she has worked, the community of plant people have been welcoming and kind. Her experience with the people she’s met thus far at the Smithsonian has been no different. The opportunity to work with the talented staff at Smithsonian Gardens to showcase its many gardens, landscapes, exhibits, collections, and educational programs makes her exhilarated to get down to business every day.
When asked if she was apprehensive about her upcoming move, Joy said, “Not at all. I have the support of an amazing partner and family. I am thrilled to come to D.C. with my husband. We look forward to broadening our exposures.”
Joy knows the importance of staying grounded in demanding jobs and situations, “Fast jogging with running groups helps me stay focused.” She also enjoys botanizing with friends, pre-pandemic of course. “Looking and identifying plants on trips with friends is invigorating.” She especially enjoys “tinkering around” in the garden. Pruning is a favorite task.
How does she share her love of gardens with her husband? “He is the vegetable gardener, and I concentrate on adding ornamentals and refining the design.” The vegetables cultivated by her husband appear in another shared arena and passion – cooking. Again, they have figured out how to divide responsibilities in the kitchen; her husband is the head chef, and Joy is his stalwart sous chef.
Joy is delighted to direct a public garden that has a history of supporting the American Public Gardens Association (APGA). She commented that the Association is doing a fabulous job unifying public gardens across the nation.
She admires APGA’s ability to recognize current challenges confronted by public gardens and lead members to address hot topics, qualities she’s added to her own leadership toolbox. She appreciates the mentoring offered and contacts made during the conferences she’s attended. “At one of the first conferences I attended, I was told to meet at least two new people every day and stay in contact with those you meet. I still follow this wise advice.”
Her biggest professional concerns are the loss of botany programs across the country and how people are looking at, though not seeing, plants. Joy asks, “How do we energize collaborations and training of new horticulturists? Can public gardens play a role in specialized botany courses? How do we share resources across the nation and train a new generation of horticulturists?” She hopes to create conversations focusing on these critical questions and more in her new role as Director of Smithsonian Gardens.
[Joy grew up in Akron, Ohio. She received her bachelor’s degree in Botany and Horticulture from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She earned a master’s degree in biology from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. She has previous experience working with the New York State Office of Parks and Cleveland Botanical Garden and served as a research assistant at Miami University of Ohio. She served as the director of horticulture at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois where she initiated and coordinated the development of a multi-phase $35 million campus revitalization plan, Project New Leaf. Her most recent position prior to coming to Smithsonian Gardens was Vice President of Horticulture at the Houston Botanic Garden, where she helped oversee construction, set the horticulture priorities, and assembled and managed the horticulture staff for Phase I of the first botanic garden within the city limits of Houston, Texas, which celebrated its opening on Sept. 18, 2020.]