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Ode to All Y’all

Partnership. Collaboration. These are words carrying a lot of meaning for me today. I am breaking from our normal format of discussing horticulture subjects and tips to get a bit personal for once. Yesterday, June 4, 2021, was my last day at Wellfield Botanic Gardens.

To partner with someone, according to Merriam-Webster, means to associate with another, especially in an action; or is a person with whom one shares an intimate relationship; or is either of two people involved in a dance. All these definitions describe my Wellfield experience. A life message I have come to preach is that landscapes, in the broadest sense of the term, sustain community, both “natural” and human made. We see ourselves, and I see myself, in partnership with the surrounding Community. I have worked interdependently with the most amazing individuals, organizations and companies over the past eight years, working together to create a blessing to the region. For this I am extremely grateful, and I am proud I was invited to participate. 

You may be an outside observer, witnessing largely the end product of this ongoing creative process, but trust me – as a partner in this endeavor, I have loved the ride with our volunteers. Wellfield was started by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, many of whom we still rely upon just to operate daily. I have worked with so many of you who are very dear to my heart.  Volunteers are always one of the greatest joys I have experienced in my career. Thank you for sharing your time and passion with me.

I have loved the ride with local artisans, contractors and supply vendors. I love people who are passionate about placing that boulder JUST right, or picking the right hardscape paver for a particular project. I love working with woodworkers and builders who can translate my rough sketches into beautiful pieces of art throughout the garden. I love working with landscapers, landscape/gardening suppliers and garden centers to gather just the right materials to make the softscape of a design come to life. The roadblocks we’ve encountered, the constraints of all sorts we have felt, and the back and forth of problem solving with my collaborators is the stuff of memories.

Lastly, I enjoyed the ride with my coworkers. You are the heart and soul of this garden, and working with you on daily and yearly plans has been awesome. Coworker? Not a term that applies at this point. We are friends. 

There was a morning this past fall when I drove into the garden and stopped for something when I paused, taking in my surroundings. I felt satisfaction and a thrill that I am a part of something much bigger than myself. I had not accomplished anything. We accomplished many things under the watching gaze of the Creator. I could never have done my job and all that was asked of me, without you. I know it is a cliche, but we really are better and constitute more together.

It has become clear my part in the dance is ending for now, changing in nature (all puns intended). I am called to the next gig. I will carry all of you with me wherever I go. Gardens are ephemeral in nature and are ever changing, and what I have done here will fade, morphing into other things – as it should. But you all have left your permanent imprint on my life and have shaped it in part, just as those who I have had the privilege to know and work with in the past have done the same. This spiritual community is the enduring stuff of my life. 

Those of you who know me know I like to quote things from high (and not so high) literature, so I shall close with a couple of them. First, in one of my favorite works of fiction is a quote that has guided my career. The ghost of Jacob Marley returns to haunt and to warn Ebeneezer Scrooge of his need to change his ways. Speaking to Scrooge, Marley tells him, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

This is why I devote my career to public horticulture. Ultimately, public gardens are not about plants for me, they are about the people. My business is not caring for plants as much as humans and their community.

The second quote comes from the ghost of Yoda (I have a thing for apparitions I guess),  speaking with a rather cranky old Luke, who has just set fire to a sacred Jedi site. Yoda reminds Luke that all the sacred books and temples and other stuff was just stuff, but it was the people, apprentices and others who would carry on the Jedi tradition long after he would depart. The Wellfield Community will continue to expand and develop from the foundation I had the privilege to help form. It can grow on to carry a life message in its mission and powerfully transform more lives like it has mine. My “legacy,” if I can be permitted to use the term, will be what Yoda reminded Luke, “We are what they grow beyond”. 

Thank you for the dancing lessons.

Josh Steffen, (former) Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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