The man behind the Flower Fields

CARLSBAD — Every year the Flower Fields are scheduled to close on Mother’s Day. This year, cooler winter temperatures have delayed the season, extending the closing until May 15.
“The overall average temperature was down 5 or 6 degrees,” explains master gardener Don Miller. “Normally, it would be obvious that the flowers were past their prime at this time. Some fields haven’t even reached their peak.”
Miller relishes his role as master gardener. He says his favorite time is early in the morning when he enjoys listening to the doves cooing and the first time a visitor utters the words, “Oh, isn’t that pretty!”
Miller works year round at the gardens, pruning, shopping for new plants at nurseries and making changes.
“Don has a remarkable eye for the combination of color and which plants work well together,” said General Manager Fred Clark. “As a result, seeing is believing. Check out the grounds of the Flower Fields. It’s unbelievable.”
This is a second career for Miller, now 82. Beginning in 1974 he traveled more than a million airline miles for Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he was an instrumentation engineer responsible for designing, developing, installing, calibrating and monitoring a worldwide seismic data recording system.
It was extensive travel from the Easter Islands to Antarctica that ignited an interest in native plants. He joined the California Native Plant Society and became a certified master gardener after retiring in 1996.
Today Miller is living a dream that goes back to his youth.
“As a kid I pulled weeds for a farmer in Michigan,” he said, adding that his favorite memories were summers in the midst of the Depression when the farmer hired his dad to load vegetables in a truck and take them to the Detroit Eastern Market. Miller remembers sleeping in the truck, then rising at 4 a.m. Much like today, he especially liked the early morning when they would grab a donut and cup of coffee and pause to savor the moment before the arrival of visitors at 7 a.m.  
His advice for young people contemplating a career: “Part of enjoying your life is doing what you love. Whatever career you want to be as a kid — think seriously about that.”
Miller’s global travels also inspired an interest in poetry. Every year, including this year, he pens a poem about flowers that he presents at the closing party at the Flower Fields.  
Afterward he’ll begin work pulling out the rose garden and transforming the area into a new wedding garden. He’ll also have more time to tend to his koi pond and native and tropical gardens at his home in Solana Beach.
For fellow gardening enthusiasts, Miller recommends planting corn in the summer in multiple rows as a means of containing the pollen.
“Plant beans and squash (zucchini) nearby and they’ll grow up the stalk,” he adds.
During the winter, he recommends snap peas and kale.
“Kale has a rainbow color — it’s a purple, leafy plant that’s especially good in lentil and lamb soup,” he advises. “It looks pretty and tastes good. It’s also good for you.”
The Flower Fields are open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through May 15. They are located at 5704 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad off the Palomar Airport Road exit. For more information, visit theflowerfields.com.

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