David Zlesak

David Zlesak selfies with Above and Beyond ZLEEltonStrack (1)The love of gardening began early in David’s youth because it helped him feel connected with his grandparents.  David’s dad left the family farm in his teen years to move to the big city and pursue his dreams. He vividly remembers his grandpa’s fruit orchard and helping plant “posies” with his grandma.  David and his grandma would go for walks in the woods around Lake Arbutus.  She shared the fun she had picking the fragrant arbutus flowers as a kid and earning money selling them to folks at the train station that would take them to Chicago. Back home in Milwaukee, David loved growing the plants shared with him by his grandparents, and eagerly learning all he could about gardening from a great neighbor lady and television shows like The Victory Garden.

In 1984 as a 13-year-old he read an article in the Milwaukee Journal about William Radler’s rose breeding hobby. David loved science and art and the idea of plant breeding fascinated him.  He wrote to Will and he kindly wrote back and connected David with Elton Strack, who also bred roses and lived in the same suburb.  David loved visiting and learning from him and he became like another grandfather.  Throughout his teens breeding roses solidified and expanded his passion for horticulture. David has been breeding roses for 34 years, and he has added many other crops added along the way. Through college and renting apartments for many years after, he was fortunate to David Zlesak (6)always find a way to make plant breeding possible.  He had to be creative: lights were strung under a bunk bed or in the basement, he rented garden plots, and of course, he had generous friends who allowed him space to plant in their yards.

David earned a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and after a few years gaining great experience at the Forest Service and as a greenhouse grower, he went back to earn a Ph.D. in plant breeding and molecular genetics. He also loves working with people and educational endeavors. After getting his Ph.D.he worked in Extension for a few years. An opportunity opened up to teach horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF), his alma mater.  He loved Extension, but the draw of paying the great experience he had forward for future horticulturists pulled him back to the university and he’s now in his 9th year teaching. David loves working with the undergraduate students and in many ways feels like a dad to them.  He feels it’s very rewarding helping the young adults grow as horticulturists and to be their cheerleader as they pursue their unique interests in plants. David was selected by the recent graduates as the 2017/18 Distinguished Teacher of the Year for the whole UWRF campus. He says it was a wonderful surprise. From the sound of it, we believe it was likely well-deserved!

Plant breeding brings David great joy. It helps him learn more about the species he loves as he gathers and works with the diverse genetics of each species he is breeding. Envisioning and working with others towards goals that benefit the greater horticulture community (e.g. elevated disease resistance and cold hardiness, unique plant habits, a longer season of flowering, etc.) makes him happy and feeds his soul. David says plant breeding also helps him be a better professor as he models being an innovative horticulture professional to students and stays closely connected with the green industry. We are representing two of David’s new ninebarks (Physocarpus). Check out the pages for Sweet Cherry Tea™and Raspberry Lemonade™ .They are really lovely, useful new additions to the Plants Nouveau line.
David isn’t just a plant breeder, he loves to ice skate and he skates all winter to keep in shape for gardening. Who knew?

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