300: Horticulturist recalls life in Himalayas, love of gardening

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Elias Guerrero is a horticulturist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He learned how to garden from his grandmother as a young boy and began collecting seeds and plants from his travels before accepting his job at the Wildflower Center.

Photo Credit: Jesse Hanna

Editor's note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold.

In his home garden, Elias Guerrero keeps a 150-year-old miniature rose bush that was handed down to him when he was 9 years old. Moved from place to place and surviving repeated run-ins with his stepfather’s lawnmower, it’s just one of the many sentimental plants he has grown to remind him of his life’s journey.

“Some people will take photographs when they travel and do things,” Guerrero said. “For me, I collect seeds and plants and propagate things that remind me of places I’ve been.”

As a boy, he watched his grandmother’s gardens spring up like “magic” and later discovered his own green thumb. He made a career out of designing ornate gardens at European estates until six years ago, when he accepted a job as Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s horticulturist.

While Guerrero, a ninth-generation Texan, spends much of his day grooming the Wildflower Center’s 300 acres of flora and fauna, he occasionally fills in as the “animal relocater.”
Guerrero has faced reptiles, foxes and once, an American Bison that escaped from a nearby ranch. He’s handled rattlesnakes measuring up to 6 feet, which he relocates to a far corner of the site dubbed “Snake Acres.”

Outside of work, Guerrero does yoga and meditates, practices he picked up as a child when he found a yoga guide that had mysteriously fallen open at a bookstore. Sensing the face in the book was familiar, Guerrero became pen pals with its author, a Swami who invited him to India. Years later, Guerrero trekked into the “middle of nowhere” in the Indian Himalayas to study Sanskrit and ancient scripture for six months.

“I loved the remote portions because it’s sort of like ‘India untouched,’ like 300 or 400 years ago,”Guerrero said. “You feel very insignificant when you feel like you’re the size of a speck of dust.”