Emily McKay is a member of GPN's 2024 Class of Forty Under 40 honorees
40 Under 40, Class of 2024

Emily McKay


Walters Gardens

Job Title

Senior lead grower/IPM manager


What 3-4 professional and/or personal accomplishments are you most proud of?

  • I collaborated with programmers from multiple companies to successfully integrate using VPD (vapor pressure deficit) measurements for triggering misting cycles in both of our propagation ranges. This involved working with two different environmental control systems and different irrigation booms, setting up initial setpoints and programs, testing and troubleshooting. This initiative led to the enhancement of our propagation protocols, resulting in improved crop stands and increased success rates with both cuttings and tissue culture products. 
  • Within a year of stepping into the role of lead grower, I was presented with the chance to spearhead the development of our greenhouse integrated pest management (IPM) team. I am proud to hold the position of IPM manager for the greenhouse, all while managing the duties of senior lead grower at our latest greenhouse site. Having this type of dual position helps bridge the gap between both the IPM and the growing department, along with improving communication between our two greenhouse locations. It can be challenging and would not be achievable without the support of an exceptional team behind me. 
  • I’ve played a pivotal role in implementing numerous processes within our greenhouse operations, significantly enhancing efficiency, productivity, consistency and overall quality. This includes the development of various standard operating procedures (SOPs) across both the growing and IPM departments. Notably, I spearheaded the creation of our PHQ (plant health quarantine) SOP, providing clear guidelines for addressing non-treatable issues such as gall and virus, as well as crafting crop-specific SOPs to ensure planting and care practices are followed for achieving better yields and quality. Additionally, I revamped our IPM data recording procedures, streamlined move list generation and introduced systems to facilitate more consistent and efficient application practices. 

What led you to work in the horticulture industry? 

  • My passion for plants started at a young age helping my grandma in her garden. I loved that she would let me pick bouquets to bring and enjoy inside.
  • It was further sparked by my exposure to Smith Floral and Greenhouses through my mother’s job. I would often visit and help out during busier times.
  • These early experiences instilled a love of nature and a desire to work with plants. I feel like I have found my calling and truly enjoy what I do.

What’s the best thing about your job? 

  • Company environment

Describe to a 6-year-old what you do in life? 

  • Where I work is like a big indoor garden where I get to take care of plants from when they are babies until they are grown up enough to go to their new home.
  • I get to be a plant mom, I make sure they have everything they need to succeed, like food, water and a good environment to grow up in.


What are your favorite hobbies? 

  • I enjoy crafting, not that I’m a particularly good one.
  • I enjoy painting, crocheting and trying new things!
  • I also enjoy reading, puzzles and watching TV to relax. 

When you’re not working, what are three things we could find you doing? 

  • Going on walks and spending time with my pets
  • Enjoying my backyard patio or inflatable hot tub with a good book
  • Hanging out with my friends

Fun Facts

Do you have any unusual talents, or can you tell us something interesting about yourself that other people may be surprised to find out? 

  • I love playing all sorts of different board games and doing escape rooms. It is a regular thing that my friends and I get together on the weekends and play board games and we branch out into the pretty obscure.
  • I also seem to have a reputation for being really good at both board games and escape rooms. I have escaped the last six escape rooms I have attempted! 

One thing you can’t live without? 

  • Coffee or tea in the morning. It is a rough day without one or the other. 

What are you (un)secretly good at? 

  • I am a good cook, but my boyfriend Andy is quite the good chef himself, especially when it comes to smoking meat. He doesn’t want me to use the smoker because he thinks I will surpass him in skill. So my master plan is to start learning this summer and become a pitmaster. 

What are your top three bucket list items? 

  • Swim with sea turtles
  • See the northern lights
  • Go whitewater rafting

What’s your favorite plant variety and why? 

  • Lavender ‘Phenomenal’, for a few reasons.
  • I love the scent of lavender, but I also love the look of the silvery foliage and purple flowers! Purple is my favorite color.
  • Most of all, this variety grows and performs well and I have very little plant health issues with it. 

You’re buying a vacation package to anywhere in the world without a budget, where are you going? 

  • If I had to narrow it down, embarking on a European adventure would be my dream.
  • Immersing myself in the diverse cultures, landscapes and histories across the continent and taking the time to travel through the multiple countries would be an unforgettable experience.