Marlo Zarka was trained as a horticulturalist, and turned a career of growing plants into one of growing people. After Marlo got her degree in horticulture, she looked for a job to start her career. She found one in Jacksonville.
“I really wanted to find a garden that I could just apply my own skills to. I came down here for the Cummer Museum. It was phenomenal. They were changing over to the fact that they wanted to be a museum with a qualified botanical garden. So that was just exactly what I wanted.”
Marlo stayed for the renovation of the Cummer Museum’s Italian garden. Then she learned of a position to manage an even larger garden.
“I had a connection through a vendor, who said the Jacksonville Zoo’s looking for someone to be the curator of horticulture there. It was a new venue for me, the idea of animals in exhibits, and it was a wonderful learning experience.”
She was leading larger teams. So Marlo went back to school to earn a masters in public administration.
“More and more people were getting assigned to me, and I was getting further and further away from plants. I hadn’t set out to manage people, but I was finding that I was good at it. I could grow people better than I could grow plants!”
Marlo Zarka moved from the zoo to a senior position with the Jacksonville Parks Department. It was 2003, an exciting time in Jacksonville.
“Mayor Delaney was wrapping up his administration, and I got chosen to serve on the transition team.”
Marlo helped familiarize the new administration with the city’s ongoing quality initiatives, so that they could choose which ones they wanted to keep. The experience was eye-opening.
“Now that I’ve a taste of being in a room with decision-makers, I’d like to keep doing that. I’m okay with letting go of the career that got me thus far, being a horticulturist and manager at that level, but I’d like to stay in a discussion that matters.”
Marlo started a consulting company. In 2004, the Superbowl Committee retained her company.
“It was my job to facilitate the federal, state and local agencies that were going to prepare for what’s called a Unified Command Plan.”
It was a strategic plan for government agencies, and Marlo says that for eight years afterward, that’s what she was hired to do around the state. In the last few years, however, the funding for that planning had largely disappeared. Marlo pivoted again, and now coaches individuals.
“I felt as though that if I began working with people, people make organizations happen. I am a certified professional coach, working primarily with professionals.”
And in some ways, that’s brought her back to her starting point … the art, science and wonder of growing.
“I learned that there is a method, there is a process with plants. You plant a seed, you water it, it grows. It gets bigger, you prune it, it grows more. But you have to follow what the plant is responding to. So if it needs water, then you water it. You don’t just water it because it’s Tuesday. Working with people, I have found that it is really the same thing. People need to check themselves for where are they going to grow best, what do they need to do that,. If I look at people like plants now, they need to have a process as well. They need their water, they need their sunlight, but it can’t be based just upon a recipe. It has to be based on what is the environment that they’re in, where do they need to get the best sunlight, and where do they need to get the best water.”