Mikal Davis knows when to water a cactus, the best type of soil for corn and squash, and which houseplants could be lethal to cats. She’s hoping to turn her vast knowledge of plants and a degree in horticulture into a thriving career in our region.

But before Mikal tells you about her plans for the future, she likes to explain her somewhat unusual name. “I was named for my father, whose name is Michael — the traditional spelling. My mother came up with it. People don’t always know how to pronounce it, so I get called all kinds of things.”

And she’s tried all kinds of things, too. She grew up in North Carolina and has tried college twice before. She enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a short time right after high school and began taking core classes. Then she enrolled in art school at UNC Asheville, but soon realized she wasn’t quite ready to settle down. So when a friend from Boston called requesting help with her newborn, Mikal headed north.

“In Boston, everyone lives in Brownstones and they all have rooftop gardens,” she said. “One of my friends had a job taking care of gardens for people and that really inspired me.”

Mikal already had a love of plants, thanks to the “amazing gardens” her grandparents had at their Florida home, but she had never before considered a career in the field. The idea intrigued her. So when she moved to Southwest Virginia with her fiancée recently, she enrolled in VHCC’s horticulture program. After earning an associate’s degree in Horticulture Technology – Business and Entrepreneurship, she hopes to start a business planting vegetable gardens for people in the region. She’s already studied the planting techniques used by Native Americans and is learning a great deal through her classes and work-study assignment in the Treadwell-Jones Greenhouse at VHCC.

She recently got the opportunity to share her knowledge during the VHCC Horticulture Club’s Winter Plant Sale. She helped customers choose between several species of houseplants, reminding them not to water too much and to provide the proper sunlight. She suggested succulents to a student who is often away from home and helped those in the holiday spirit choose the perfect Christmas wreath — made entirely from campus greenery.

When not helping with club activities or working at her campus job, Mikal works as a server at Basq in downtown Bristol. She also finds time for school work and her two pets — a flame point Siamese and a hound mix who are best of friends — and an occasional game of Skyrim, a video game that involves fighting dragons who exist in a world far, far away from VHCC. The hectic schedule she maintains is rewarding, she said, because she’s finally found where she belongs.

“I love that this is a small campus,” she said. “I know everyone I interact with on a daily basis. I took the long way around to get back to school, but I’m more focused and more into my classes now. I care about my grades now, and I’m excited about the future.”