G Force

Her budding career

(Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Carol Stocker
February 17, 2011

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Q. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society is best known for its gigantic spring flower show, a grand old Boston tradition that went broke several years ago. Will there be one this year or is it kaput?

A. The Boston Flower & Garden Show will be held at the Seaport World Trade Center March 16-20.

Q. Is Mass Hort still a part of it?

A. The Paragon Group owns the show. They staged it last year, too, and they made money. Mass Hort runs the section of it called Blooms, which includes the amateur competitions, flower arranging, and special children’s activities. We also stage all the lectures and workshops on the Thursday.

Q. People always complained that show tickets were expensive.

A. You get a free ticket if you join the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. We’re having our big membership drive now.

Q. Why has Mass Hort had so many problems?

A. A lot of it is building-related. It’s overextended itself.

Q. It’s also famous for hiring some really terrible directors. This time the trustees wanted to make sure they got it right so they staged a nationwide search, interviewing 26 people from around the country. Then they hired you — and you live only five miles from their headquarters at Elm Bank in Wellesley. In fact, you had been walking your dog there for years.

A. My golden retriever. He died at 17 years, four months. It was his favorite place to walk. I now carry dog biscuits for the current dog walkers.

Q. Why were you the best candidate to turn Mass Hort around?

A. I spent six years as vice president for Outward Bound in Boston until 2008, which taught me tenacity. Mass Hort relies on its volunteers, and I’m very much a local civic advocate. I helped run successful volunteer campaigns in Wellesley to override Mass. Prop. 2 1/2 in 1990 and to earmark tax dollars for open space preservation in 2002. I’ve been a Wellesley town meeting selectman for 25 years. People say, “If Kathy Macdonald is working on it, you’ll probably get it done.’’

Q. You’re a politician, a businesswoman . . . and a techie?

A. Yes. After getting my MBA from Babson, I worked for two high-tech start-ups, which teaches you to be resourceful and fast. But my daughter says that heading Mass Hort is the perfect job for me because it’s challenging, but easier to get passionate about than analytical software. I do have some ideas to make the website more interactive, like having a demonstration vegetable garden online. And we could tweet people: “Time to start your tomato seeds.’’

Q. What are your goals?

A. I want to raise the membership from the current 5,500 and get Mass Hort back in the public schools with programs about gardening. I want to see Mass Hort join the contemporary conversation about being healthy and sustainable. I want to see it survive to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2029, even if they have to roll me out in a wheelchair with a cup of tea.

Q. Are you a gardener yourself?

A. My father worked with his brother for a tree surgeon company. I’ve been gardening since I was 6. I’ve had a plot in Wellesley’s Brookside Community Garden for 20 years. I grow my own tomatoes from seed in the basement with grow lights over a banquet table. I’m all about digging up and planting.

Q. What’s the absolute worst thing about gardening?

A. Poison ivy. I have to get steroids when I have it.

Interview was edited and condensed. Carol Stocker can be reached at

Katherine K. Macdonald
New executive director of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which ran the New England Spring Flower show for 137 years before financial problems forced it to suspend the tradition in 2009. A revamped show returned last year with a new owner and a new location; Mass Hort played a small but key role in its return. Next month the flower show returns once again, a relief for snow-weary Bostonians. Meanwhile, the new Mass Hort director fills us in on her plans for the perennially struggling organization.