Professor Helps Autism Spectrum Adults Earn Horticulture Certification

FNGLA Autism Program

Left to right: Craig Tisher, Eric Estores, Amy Puccio, and Charlie Guy

As a plant scientist who spent most of his career in a laboratory, Charlie Guy, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Horticulture in University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, didn’t consider how gardening could improve people’s wellbeing. But today, he’s seen how working with plants can help people see themselves and their futures in a new light.


Guy has been tutoring Amy Puccio and Eric Estores, two participants in the Wilmot Gardens Autism Spectrum Disorder Job Skills Training Program. He helped them prepare for the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional designation exam. This designation is the industry standard for horticultural skills and knowledge, and signals to potential employers that applicants are ready for jobs in plant nurseries, landscaping, and other horticultural operations.

“Dr. Guy called to tell us about the program at Wilmot Gardens and their desire to offer the FNGLA’s Certified Horticulture Professional exam to their students,” says Merry Mott, Director of Certifications and Career Development for FNGLA. “We didn’t think twice before saying yes.”

Gardening can help those on the autism spectrum gain the skills and independence needed to enter the workforce in ways that other activities might not, says Guy.

“People have a deep innate affinity for plants, and working with plants provides benefits that are only now being understood,” says Guy, whose research has focused on the impacts of gardening on mental health and wellbeing. “Plants have a unique potential to spark a person’s interest to learn, and this was a motivational factor for Eric and Amy to study hard and pass the FNGLA certificate examination.”

On August 23, Puccio and Estores received their certifications from FNGLA representatives during a small ceremony at Wilmot Gardens.

“We are so proud of Eric and Amy’s accomplishments. Not only do we welcome them as FNGLA Certified professionals, we welcome them to our horticulture family,” Mott says.

Puccio said one of her favorite parts of gardening is that it gets her outside. Working with plants also gives her a sense of pride.

“I feel like I’ve found something I’m good at,” she says. Puccio plans to apply for jobs in plant nurseries.

While Estores likes pruning and transplanting, he’s most passionate about learning new plant species.

“I enjoy doing plant identification because I like to memorize things,” he says. One day he’d like to work for UF, just like his mentor, Charlie Guy.