Detail image of Sayde Heckman for WSYS Editorial Pick story.

Flower Power: Sayde Heckman’s passion for gardening grew over time. Now the Garden and Arboretum Manager at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens is thriving in a male-dominated field.

Photo by Mary Helen Nunn

We should all love something as much as Sayde Heckman loves plants. The Garden and Arboretum Manager at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood puts her passion in action every day and inspires others to find their spark in horticulture… even though, reflecting on her childhood, Sayde didn’t always have that enthusiastic green thumb. “My mom had a garden, and as a kid, one of my chores was going out to pick the vegetables,” Sayde recalls. “I just didn’t enjoy being in it. I really hated it, in fact.”

It was the teachers and advisors in Sayde’s high school FFA program who helped her discover that passion. She devoted herself to gathering knowledge about plants with it becoming a vocation. She joined Yew Dell just out of college and, in time, went from an apprentice to leading as a manager. In her position, she leads staff and volunteers to maintain Yew Dell’s 60+ acres of display gardens and arboretum; whether that is using a tractor to remove invasive plants to brainstorming the color scheme for multiple seasons in each garden display. She also manages the curation program that tracks and maps out the grounds as well as the equipment that engraves signs for people to learn about each plant.

“We’re just out here trying to get people to love flowers as much as we do.”

“My parents were very surprised when I told them that I wanted to pursue gardening,” she recalls with a laugh. “I’m still not into vegetables; I just really love flowers and making things pretty. It puts me in a constant state of euphoria. Why, I have no idea. I’m just absolutely addicted. I have no other way to describe it. It makes me all giddy.”

Sayde is also passionate about helping others find their love for plants. She leads workshops and family activities at Yew Dell so visitors can see how widespread and diverse the world of horticulture can be. “This place has truly changed me,” she reflects. “The staff here is so supportive, and we inspire each other to make positive changes. I really believe in them. I can’t imagine not having this.”

There are assumptions Sayde tackles in the work that she does- using heavy machinery, the physical stress of working in the heat of summer through frigid winter, finding a balance of art and science. To her, it’s worth it. And she’s not alone. “I always hear that it’s male-dominated, and I see that at trade shows. But some of the best are beautiful, strong, talented women. We’re kicking butt out here. We’re out here thriving. We’re just out here trying to get people to love flowers as much as we do.”


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