“The roots are doing their job”

The roots are doing their job,” commented Josh Steffen, horticulture manager at Wellfield Botanic Gardens, as a small team surveyed the flooding around Wellfield’s half-mile Promenade pathway on Wednesday morning. As the rising waters from adjacent Christiana Creek overtake several stretches of pathway, it carries soil and debris from one place to another. But the roots – – the true structural foundation of shrubs and trees – – hold strong. “That speaks to the proper care and maintenance of plants in preparation for times of stress like these,” Steffen says. “It’s why we do what we [horticulturists] do, cultivating and caring for plants.”

For an organization whose Mission is ‘to celebrate the inseparable relationship between water and life, inspire creativity and lifelong learning, foster stewardship of our natural world, and grow community’, you won’t hear any complaints about excess water. Aside from minor grumblings that come with inevitable cleanup, re-mulching of planting areas, perhaps some minor fill-ins required due to soil loss or erosion, water is doing what water has done for millenia: cycling. In all its forms, water is invaluable, critical to all life on earth. In excess it may be a little inconvenient to a botanic garden, but nonetheless a crucial component of nature’s system.

Eric Amt, the Garden’s founding executive director and now volunteer chair of the Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Directors said he’s never seen water this high in Wellfield Botanic Garden’s 13-year history. “Oh there’s been worse flooding of the well field prior to the Garden being here,” Amt said, referring to a flood event he recalled in the early 1980s. “But the water’s never been this high since we’ve developed the botanic garden spaces,” he added. 

Prior knowledge of the well field’s history, flood maps, and proper engineering and design of buildings, pathways, and other structures ensure that damage to the Garden’s grounds and collections are minimized. Wellfield’s Guest Services Manager Jodie Papandrea and Environmental Educator Melissa Kinsey also took the chance to walk the Promenade and view the unusual conditions. “It’s interesting to see what water can do,” Papandrea commented. Fortunate timing allows for Wellfield’s ‘winter season’ operations to continue mostly uninterrupted, as much of the work is done behind the scenes, in dry office spaces – – planning for the upcoming visitor season, special event preparations, development efforts, and designing temporary garden spaces and placing plant orders occupy a great deal of time indoors.

Christiana Creek’s water levels will lower in the days ahead. Lotus Pond, Swan Pond, and South Pond will return to their usual selves. Assessment of any real damages will be made and plans put in place to remedy. But given we’re only in the eighth week of 2018, northern Indiana’s weather has much more in store for Wellfield Botanic Gardens in what remains of winter and the spring shortly ahead. We describe Wellfield as a “living museum.” That’s a good descriptor. We’re not only a part of the built-environment of our Elkhart community, but we are as affected by our weather and the natural environment as any organization can possibly be. Through floods, bitter temperatures, windstorms, extreme heat and drought, we are bound to the beauty, power, and life-sustaining properties of water – – earth’s most precious and finite resource.

Stay dry! (or don’t… you won’t melt)

-Eric Garton
Robert and Peggy Weed Executive Director
Wellfield Botanic Gardens

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