Janet Poor Turns Passion for Plants into Mission

Until she was 40, Janet Meakin Poor played a lot of tennis and always had a project going with her children’s schools, the Junior League or her beloved Garden Club of America Winnetka Chapter.

At 40, however, Poor switched gears and decided to pursue her passion for plants in earnest. She cobbled together a landscape architecture degree from 3 different schools, traveling as far away as the University of Wisconsin at Madison to do so.

Her passion ultimately led Poor to the forefront of plant conservation and gardening locally, nationally and internationally.

“One year alone, I was national vice president of the Garden Club of America; chairman of the Chicago Botanic Garden; actively involved as a board member of the Center For Plant Conservation at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum; chairman of the Open Days Program for the Garden Conservancy, which showcases over 400 countrywide gardens; member of the advisory committee of Filoli Gardens in San Francisco; on the Awards Committee at Winterthur; and on the board of the American Horticultural Society, an appointment by the Secretary of Agriculture.”

Poor pauses and flashes a big grin. She’s dressed in a rose-colored jacket and needlepoint floral flats, which give a sartorial nod to her love of English rose gardens. She continues.

“Oh yes, and I was running my own landscape business and writing the first of 2 books, ‘Plants That Merit Attention.’”

Her passion has taken her around the world, too.

“Every year, I’ve gone to England and Scotland,” she says. “I like the informality of those gardens. But I’ve been all over the world studying plants.”

Poor has done substantially more than just study, create or write about pretty gardens. She’s driven by her mission to save endangered plant species, educate the public and give future generations a better botanical world.

“We owe it to our children and our grandchildren,” Poor says over her cup of tea. “This should be the legacy of each and everyone of us. A promise we pledge to keep”

Poor has been instrumental in developing collaborations that forward her mission. For example, the Center For Plant Conservation helps the Garden Club of America (GCA) fulfill its role as a supporter of the Endangered Species Act. (Of course, Poor originally convinced the GCA to adopt that position, too.)

The Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) has taken a leading conservation role nationally—in partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management and Northwestern University. Poor also encouraged CBG into its international participation in the Millenium Seed Bank. By 2010, one-third of all the world’s known types of seeds will be stored in the Northbrook facility. The other two-thirds are stored in Fort Collins and in England. An entire second set is frozen near the North Pole in Norway.

Poor’s most significant contribution to a better botanical future though is likely to be CBG’s new Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, which opens Sept. 21.

This $50 million facility will earn a Gold Leeds Certification for its sustainable design as well as triple the space dedicated to pure research and conservation at CBG.

However, the owners of the North Shore homes whose landscapes Poor has designed may believe that her work on their behalf is most important. In partnership with Scott Byron & Co or Rosborough Designs recently and earlier with Ralph Synnesvedt, Poor practices locally what she preaches globally. This results in stunning landscapes that are exactly right for the future.

Janet Poor proves that our amazing North Shore women can accomplish anything when they follow their passions wherever they lead in the world.