Mary Lewis was recognized as one of GPN's Forty Under 40 award winners in 2024.
40 Under 40, Class of 2024

Mary Lewis


Syngenta Flowers

Job Title

Associate breeder


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

  • I am very proud to have been at college during the time when Tim Smalley and Paul Thomas were teaching. The amount of knowledge and opportunities I was exposed to as a result of their mentorship, set me on a completely different career projection than I thought I’d pursue. 
  • I was able to travel the world and see the formative gardens of our history, learn horticultural practices of different countries, work for Disney and access internships. I don’t think I could’ve gotten anywhere else — to then go to grad school and work on such a fascinating crop like asclepias, and have the unforeseen success I did with it, was also an accomplishment I will always be proud of. Which all accumulated to what I do now, doing breeding work for Syngenta Flowers. 
  • Being mentored by the best in the business and getting to create and perfect products for the industry. It has been so rewarding that I can’t believe I’ve been at the job for two years already.

What led you to work in the horticulture industry? 

  • Paul Thomas, Ockert Greyvenstein and Anne Leventry. I was all set and determined to finish my undergrad and start a career as a grower when Paul Thomas asked me the simple question of: “What do you dream of doing?” I gave some answer to the extent of, I’d love to do breeding but I didn’t see that as being possible.
  • Within four months, Anne had opened a breeder’s assistant position with PanAm, and Ockert found himself stuck with me for a summer. That was it for me. I knew in three weeks that this was what I wanted to do and it was worth going to grad school for. That fall, I was in grad school and four years later, here I am. Happy as a pansy in a planter.

What’s the best thing about your job? 

  • I get to do what I love, every day.

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

  • I work with plants.
  • I create flowers for your yards that grow better, look prettier, have unique colors and support the bees and butterflies.


What are your favorite hobbies? 

  • Reading
  • Hiking
  • Sewing
  • Napping in scenic locations

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

  • Cursing my life choices halfway through an All Trails “moderate”-rated hike
  • Searching for the best boba

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 just recently made a debut as a model for the Delta Pro series promotional materials. I know, not something I had ever envisioned for myself, but they needed a face to put with the product’s release and everyone else was out of the office that day, I guess. They will probably never make that same mistake in asking for my help again — but I can say it was a rather fun experience. 

What are you (un)secretly good at?

  • Finding good boba spots

What are your top three bucket list items? 

    • Have a series release I bred
    • Visit every U.S. national park
    • Eventually be known as an industry leader 

One thing you can’t live without? 

  • Sunscreen

What’s your favorite plant variety and why? 

  • Daphne odora.
  • I adore the fragrance of that plant, and they are finicky enough that having a healthy plant makes me feel accomplished as a gardener. 

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

  • Italy. England has beautiful gardens, but I love the gardens in Italy more.
  • Plus, the food is amazing and the wine is better than in France.