When I moved to Kenmore, WA, in 2004, I did so for love. I left my very stable and good-paying job of seven years, my first house, and packed it all up along with the pup and headed north.
With no job prospects, I set-up the house and garden for a month. Upon completion of a fence to keep the dog in place, the love of my life suggested I get a job. How sweet, if self-serving.
I went to the one place that I visited time and again over the previous years of courtship, Sky Nursery. After what felt like no time at all, the nursery manager offered me a job on the spot. Feeling confident that my knowledge of horticulture had won me over, I accepted. It would be later that I learned of the desperation they were feeling to have bodies to do incredible amounts of daily physical labor to get through the epic marathon that is called spring and the pinnacle of all garden retailers, Mother’s Day. I left after four months to return to corporate work, salary, and benefits—only four months into the new job, the company sold. Another eight months later and I have returned to the garden center.
Fast forward two years, and I’m now one of the leaders at the store as the general manager. For eight more years, I immersed myself in the new construction, the new space, and the expansion of the business by what seemed ten-fold over the previous iteration. During these years, I was introduced to the Northwest Horticulture Society, became a member of the board of directors, and worked on committees. As a result of my time there, I became introduced to the broader world of horticulture.
Today, I find myself at the helm of a modest public garden with a deep community reach, both tangibly and emotionally. I met Dr. Kruckeberg in 2004 and spent some time walking with him in his garden, listening to his stories. Had you told me then that I would be here now, I would have laughed. And yet, here I am. I have visited many public gardens around the country and Europe over the years, and deep down, I knew that I wanted to be part of this effort. There are so many facets as to why a public garden appeals to me. Most notably, it’s the story of a garden. No matter the scale of acreage or the endowment, every garden has a story of coming into being. Born of an individual(s) passion for preservation, creativity, or sustainability, the creation of gardens ultimately gives more than it takes.
My story is not unique. Garden leaders everywhere have similar passions. Similarly, none of us have ever found ourselves in the position we are now—deep survival mode. Our challenge is not limited to us. Industries, individuals, and partners are all impacted on a broad scale. On the eve of starting our third month of closure, we have taken steps to preserve what we can of our savings and operational funds. In April, we laid off staff for the first time in several years. They are receiving unemployment benefits plus the extra $600 per week federal. How will we ever convince them to come back?
In all seriousness, we have also taken steps to offset our financial impacts by applying for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program. I’m happy to report that we have been successful in getting approval and hope to be funded within the week. The PPP will provide us with eight weeks of payroll, sustaining us through June. With any luck, we’ll also be moving into phase 3 of the reopening efforts shortly after that.
Public gardens are more than a place to walk and relax. They provide needed information for science, preservation, sustainability, and education. Garden leaders everywhere work hard to attract visitors to enhance awareness of their existence, which is why we host concerts, galas, plant sales, and workshops. It’s a constant balancing act to leverage one for the other. Our primary responsibility is to the living collections in our care, but we need you to achieve that. And while plants as a whole don’t need humans to exist, in cultivation, they do. The human quotient is another aspect of our existence. Human resources are necessary, and not just anyone will do. We need experienced and knowledgeable people to care for this garden. It’s fair to say that many of us don’t do this for the lucrative aspect of this profession. We are passionate about what we do. We care deeply for our gardens and the living entities within that care. For me, it’s personal. My commitment and love for my place here are profound. While nothing is forever, gardens exist for decades past their founders. Some much, much longer. It’s because of people. And for that, we thank you.
Your generosity and support have been immeasurable. We cannot do this without you, and you continue to rise to the occasion. Thank you for keeping the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in your considerations for support.
Joseph Abken, Executive Director