Employee Profile: Toby Bernal
2011; American Botanical Council
for the 2.5-acre, herb-rich grounds on which the American Botanical
Council is headquartered is no walk in the park. This is
hotter-than-hot Central Texas, after all. In the past, due to budget
limitations, the numerous tasks vital to perpetuating ABC’s 30
medicinal herb theme gardens fell to the education coordinator. This
year, ABC was fortunate enough to be able to hire a dedicated
gardener: Toby Bernal.Toby
is responsible for maintaining ABC’s herb gardens, coordinating
garden volunteers, and managing ABC’s greenhouse, rainwater
collection system, equipment, and tools. But Toby’s contributions
to ABC extend beyond his job description: He can always be counted on
as a source of laughter and has an ever-ready ear to bend. He shares
his artistic talent and Japanese garden landscaping experience with
ABC by adorning its grounds with rock sculptures (which remain
beautiful without watering—a benefit during a record-setting Texas
man of just 45 years, Toby seems to have lived many lifetimes. He was
born in Austin, Texas, and spent his childhood in the idyllic Hyde
Park neighborhood. After graduating from high school, he went
“vagabond” and immediately traveled south to Mexico and through
Central America. “As I was doing that,” said Toby, “I started
to see how art was a part of their cultures, not just something to
1987, he began to study art in Mexico City; later, he earned his
bachelor’s degree in art—with focuses in sculpture and
painting—from the University of Texas at Austin.
graduation, he subtly shifted gears by opening an antiques business
and apprenticing with a master finisher for 5 years. The latter
opportunity allowed him to participate in the restoration of the
Texas State Capitol building.
ran a “small-time” refinishing business on Austin’s East Side
for several years, but in 1996, he fell in love, sold everything,
moved to Alaska and then on to Hawaii.
decline of his mother’s health brought Toby back to the mainland.
“That’s when I became interested in homeopathic medicines and
herbal remedies,” said Toby, though his herbal education truly
commenced much earlier, in the gardens of his mother and his aunt, a
nearly 4 years, Toby—a practicing Buddhist—was the garden
coordinator at Austin’s Shambhala Meditation Center, where his
knowledge of irrigation, indigenous plants, and herbs increased. Toby
continues to devote about 10 hours per week to the Center’s garden.
to Toby, it took just 30 minutes from the time ABC’s former
education coordinator posted the gardener job listing to Craigslist
for him to arrive at ABC in person to apply for the position. Looking
around the gardens, Toby recognizes the potential for improvement.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, serenely, confident that he
has years ahead of him to realize the possibilities. “I’ve found
a place that I can call home.”
is contemplating continuing his education during off-hours to obtain
a degree in botany. Presently, when his hands aren’t in the soil or
balancing stones, Toby enjoys cooking—particularly French
cuisine—as well as kyudo
(Japanese archery), ikebana
(Japanese floral arrangement), many forms of dance, classic movies,
swimming, and skateboarding with his 13-year-old daughter.