Kay and John Buzza are retiring as Phalen Park Garden Stewards. As we thank them, we are looking for new green thumbs!

You have put in more than 89 hours at Phalen Park just since 2017. Thank you! How did you get started volunteering at Phalen Park?

“I love gardening and flowers so I always notice them,” says Kay. “We live along Lake Phalen, and when a garden was planted around the entrance sign on Wheelock Parkway, I really appreciated the roses. After a few years I noticed no one was caring for that lovely garden (it was becoming more weeds than roses). When I complained to John he said ‘why don’t you do something about it?’ That’s when I spoke to the head of the rec center and volunteered to take on the weeding.

“Over time, we took out some of the roses that weren’t doing well and donated some annuals to add some more color. Eventually we also took over the large pots around the rec center.”

“I’m the ‘beast of burden,’ says John. “Kay is the gardener and I carry the heavy stuff.”

What is it like interacting with Saint Paul Parks and Rec staff?

“They are just wonderful! Tricia Wherle, the volunteer coordinator recruited some young volunteers to put in the brick edging when I mentioned that the grass was encroaching on the garden beds.

 “Tony Springerhouse, who runs Blooming Saint Paul, invites us to the annual event where we can get plants from the Natural Resources greenhouse to add to our own donations. When Tony asked if there anything we needed, I mentioned that there was no sign identifying the rec center. Three weeks later there was a new sign at the entrance.

“One of the obstacles is the lack of nearby water sources for those gardens. Parks staff gave us a key to open the spigot at the rec center. We’d fill four 5-gallon water buckets and drive them over to the garden. Eventually we bought three 100-foot stretchable hoses to go from the rec center or from the nearby fire hydrant that has a spigot attached.

What would you say to someone considering taking on the entrance garden at Phalen?

“The work brings so much joy to you and to everyone who sees it. People walking by when we’re working tell us how much they appreciate the gardens. And the park staff is so helpful and responsive. There are some wonderful volunteers at the Dragon Garden and the Poetry Garden. You’ll enjoy getting to know them as well.

“All the park gardens have been looking so good over the last year – it’s wonderful to see how the community takes pride and creates beauty for everyone to enjoy in our parks.

Tell us about your favorite parks in addition to Phalen? We walk every day along Lake Phalen, although we’ve been branching out going to other parks because of the pandemic. We’ve enjoyed Battle Creek, Cherokee Park, Mounds Park. There are nice trails off Larpenteur and Dale that wind down into some valleys. While there aren’t flowers, we were drawn to the beauty of the woods. Lake Como is always a beautiful walk. We don’t get downtown too often to walk, but it’s always beautiful there.

We also walked around Fish Lake and Pig’s Eye lake – that was fun! We came home with a few extra ticks from the tall grass, though! In Maplewood, we really enjoyed Gladstone Savanna – both the nature preserve and the history as the railroad hub of the lost city of Gladstone.

But now it’s time to retire as Garden Stewards and take to the open road?

“After retiring from work years ago, we’re still in the process of learning how to ‘be’ rather than ‘do.’

“We have a new Scamp trailer that we will start using to travel out West to see friends and family in Salt Lake City, explore the National Parks in Utah and Southern Colorado and see the North rim of the Grand Canyon. And we’ll ride the old steam railroad in Durango, CO.

“We are still ‘keeping our hands in the dirt’ by caring for the gardens at our townhome complex near Phalen, as well as the pots by Community of Peace Academy and our church.

“And since we know how responsive park staff is, we can be ‘park watchers’ on our walks – saying thank you to other volunteers and letting staff know when something needs to be fixed.”

Thank you, Kay and John for your decade of care at Phalen Park! Happy travels!

If they have inspired you to volunteer in Saint Paul parks, there are openings for Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards – including at Phalen Park. Your work will make a huge difference to the community and connect you to nature. Learn more