By Mina Williams For The Herald
LYNNWOOD — They both studied art as young women, both married electronics engineers, both have a passion for gardening and oftentimes they wear the same color on the same day.
It’s a twin thing, say Jill and Jan Nunemaker, 58. “We can’t help it,” said Jill Nunemaker. “Everyone should be so lucky.”
After graduating college, Jill Nunemaker traveled to Sweden to paint and continue her art studies while her sister moved her career forward through graphic design across the United States.
The Spokane-born pair landed in the Puget Sound region. Jan Nunemaker moved next door to Zsofia Pasztor, owner of Innovative Landscape Technologies, Everett. The firm specializes in sustainable landscape design and construction.
“I always liked gardening and did landscaping,” Jan Nunemaker said. “A neighbor told me Zsofia was looking for someone to help with weeding and pruning and I started working for her.”
Blending her lifelong passion for gardening with art, Jill Nunemaker designed a native plant garden at a school where she was teaching art to demonstrate to students how to join art with nature.
The next logical step, the twins agreed, was to study horticulture — setting their sights on Edmonds Community College while they both worked for Pasztor.
“I went back to college when my youngest child went to college,” Jill Nunemaker said. “I was frightened. But I wanted to be able to support myself with a marketable skill, unlike fine arts.”
For her sister? “I wanted to prove that I could still think,” Jan Nunemaker said. “I had the art skill. What I needed was the plant skills.”
“It turned out to be not as scary as I thought it would be,” Jill Nunemaker said. “I thought I would feel out of place, but most students in horticulture are more than 40 years old and women. Going through this together is the best part. We really help each other.”
Her sister agreed. “Going back to college is very empowering, especially for women who have raised a family and look for something else,” Jill Nunemaker said. “Community college is different than four-year schools. The classes are smaller with supportive instructors who know you. I had the idea before (attending) that community college was rigorous. But it certainly does challenge you.”
Jill and Jan are now about two-thirds through the horticulture program and continue to work for Pasztor.
Their design mettle was tested in February during the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Pasztor was asked to lead the design and implementation efforts of a display garden presented by the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association. Pasztor asked the Nunemaker sisters to consult on the project.
Given the firm’s specialty, the garden highlighted sustainability, featuring low-impact rain gardens, green roofs, living walls, pervious pavement, low-volume irrigation, composting and a chicken coop.
The design efforts earned a bronze award and second place in the People’s Choice voting. During the show, broadcast celebrity gardener Ciscoe Morris taped his television segment in Jan and Jill’s garden.
“Green solutions are the new solutions,” Jan Nunemaker said.