Madeline deVries Hooper’s Story

Gardening has been a big part of my entire life. It started when I was six years old. We had just moved into a house from an apartment, and I became my dad’s dedicated gardening helper. I also had woods to play in behind our house, where I collected plants and even built a treehouse with my brother.  

During my teenage years I graduated from moving through nature to moving on the dance floor. A new passion emerged, and later in life I became a competitive ballroom dancer and teacher. 

For a career, my dream was to be in the fashion business, and I was very lucky that my first full time job was at Bergdorf Goodman, the high-end women’s fashion store on Fifth Avenue. I had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time because, after one year in a clothing department as a clerical, I was transferred to the PR department as the junior assistant. Lady Luck struck again, and six months later, after my boss had to leave, Mr. Goodman promoted me to Publicity Director of the store.  Every day was so exciting. My job was to put on designer fashion shows, attend parties in the Goodmans’ apartment above the store, and work with the media to publicize merchandise that was being featured in the store. As if that wasn’t swell enough, I got to pick out clothes and jewelry to wear at store events. This perk still makes me smile, since my everyday work wardrobe was made by me on a sewing machine that my mother had given me for my 16th birthday!  

Seven years later, on the day after Mr. Goodman sold the store, my first child was born. My husband and I moved to a small house in New Jersey, and I stopped working to be a mom. We had a yard with established trees and large shrubs. This presented the opportunity to try to design my own garden.  It took me a year, reading books and visiting nurseries, but eventually I had layers of tracing paper for each month locating shrubs and perennials I wanted to use to keep the garden in bloom. Three years later it was looking somewhat established, and the care of it was a treat.

Eventually I had to go back to work and, thanks to the friends and contacts I had made at Bergdorf’s, I was able to get some freelance PR work. The assignments started to grow, and I had to move back to NYC to keep up with my burgeoning little business. Thus DeVries PR was born, in 1979.  In the beginning, not surprisingly, my clients were in the fashion business but, after a few years, we won some Procter and Gamble business, which fortunately attracted other iconic brands.

Always wanting to stay connected to nature, we bought a weekend getaway in Columbia County, NY.   That’s when the gardening bug reemerged.

I started to take gardening classes at the New York Botanical Garden and later was invited to join the board of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on the strength of my marketing experience as well as my growing passion for horticulture. We also made trips to England and France to visit family and friends and managed to squeeze in many visits to amazing gardens.  We were full of ideas but had little time to carry them out.

When our daughter went off to college, I received an offer to sell the agency and jumped at the chance to move to the country full time.

So, for the past 20 years I have spent almost every day in my garden. Our land was second-growth forest, and the immediate area around the house was overgrown. We didn’t even have a driveway. There was a lot to do before we could start planting, but that was half the fun, and the physical labor was therapeutic and invigorating.  

More knowledge was called for, and I enrolled in classes at Berkshire Botanical Garden. Eventually I joined the Board and started using my marketing experience to help transform a sleepy destination into a thriving attraction and resource for our community. Through this relationship I have had the pleasure of working side by side with many master gardeners and meeting some of the world’s most exciting plantsmen, designers, and head gardeners. I have been Vice Chair for the past 10 years and it has been an amazing privilege to be part of an institution that exists to share gardening knowledge and sustainability practices with so many adults and children.

My gardening journey has been, like so many gardener friends, a case of constant trial and error as well as a challenge both mental and physical.  

Yet there are so many rewards. Working with and in nature makes you part of the renewal of life, home-grown food is delicious and healthy, and the process of taking care of everything in my garden is an exciting, fascinating, and creative endeavor. The only fly in the ointment was the strain on my neck and back that hours of gardening every day created. I reached the point where I felt I couldn’t go on without finding a solution. That’s when a dear gardener-friend suggested I contact a personal trainer who taught me how to use my body properly and avoid stressful movements. This changed my life, and I felt that all gardeners should know they don’t have to accept the aches and pains associated with gardening; which is why I created a TV show that I hoped would change the lives of all gardeners by teaching them how to take care of their bodies while taking care of their gardens. GardenFit was born.