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Branching Out

Student’s native plant business sprouting success

Kristen Nicholson's new career is taking root. After 18 years as a dental hygienist, Kristen found a new passion – running a nursery dedicated to native plants.

As she launched the business, she returned to the classroom to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at Bridgewater State University.

“I’ve always been drawn to the sciences. It makes a lot of sense to me,” said Kristen, a senior who began at Massasoit Community College before transferring to Bridgewater. “It directly translates to what I’m doing now. I love learning about anything new and passing that on to other people.”

Kristen, who co-owns Blue Stem Natives in Norwell, especially enjoyed BSU courses about wildflowers, forest fires and vernal pools.

She keenly observed how her BSU professors interacted with and mentored students from varying backgrounds. Kristen must do the same thing when working with the nursery’s customers.

“It's learning to meet people where they are,” she said. “We’re not just a normal garden center. We have to teach people about native plants and why they should plant natives instead of nonnatives.”

Native plants are those that grew in an area of the United States before the arrival of Europeans. Their benefits include providing valuable wildlife habitat.

“Even with a small garden, you can start to see differences practically from day one,” Kristen said.

She is helping meet growing demand for these plants, said Ron Aakjar, a staff associate in BSU’s Department of Biological Sciences.

“There’s a huge movement in the U.S. to utilize native species and they’re a lot harder to find,” said Aakjar, who taught Kristen in his class on New England wildflowers. “To have a nursery specializing in native plants in this area is a great addition.”

In class, Kristen was a leader who brought an energetic, inquisitive attitude each day, Aakjar recalled.

As she completes her BSU studies, Kristen hopes her perseverance as a student and entrepreneur is inspirational for her children, who are close in age to many of the BSU students with whom Kristen shared a classroom.

“It’s really important for them to see me doing it and doing it well,” she said. “I've loved being back in school. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.”

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