Mystic Seaport’s greenhouse takes on a totally different look during the winter months. Just a few trays of seedlings dot the benches. However, according to the Museum’s Assistant Horticulturist, Stephen Sisk, all that changes by the second week in May when the greenhouse incubator transforms into a nursery full of plants waiting to welcome spring outdoors.
1. How long have you been employed at Mystic Seaport?
SS: June 2010 will be my 40th anniversary of working here. I actually began working part-time during the summers when I was a junior in high school. I continued my schooling at Mohegan Community College in Norwich, (now Three Rivers College) and at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum. I also took classes to achieve the title of Master Gardener.
2. What’s the best part of your job?
SS: I love being outdoors, and a side-perk of that is meeting and talking with visitors on grounds. I get asked all kinds of questions regarding their own home gardening and gardening problems. Sometimes it’s a little hard to diagnose the problem without seeing the patient, so to speak, but I try to help if I can.
3. What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
SS: We’re dealing with living plants and want them to look their best when planted in our Museum gardens. It’s very gratifying to see the fruits of our labor thrive during the growing season. Kara, our terrific volunteers and myself all strive for the same goal; we want our Mystic Seaport gardens to look beautiful. We try to visualize the Museum gardens through visitors’ eyes and work towards giving them a fresh look each year. We’re already looking at seed catalogues to choose what we might plant this season.
4. What’s the funniest or most notable on-the-job experience you’ve had?
SS: I’ve got one of each. It was some years ago; I was laying down sod when a school group came by. The kids were fascinated; they had never seen grass in a roll before. I decided to let them lay down a section of sod themselves. Boy, did they love doing that! Who knows, maybe that little experience whetted their interest in gardening.
On a more poignant note, some 20 years ago, when I was working at the Buckingham House garden, an elderly German visitor approached. He saw the gooseberries growing there and tears came to his eyes. They reminded him of home in Germany.
5. What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?
SS: Photography! When you see Mystic Seaport’s 2010 calendar, one of my photographs is on the cover. The Museum store and area stores carry a book of my photographs called Mystic Memories. Aside from photography, I enjoy watching old black and white movies and reading history books that teach you something. Basically, my two cats run my life. There’s “red-headed” Lucy and sidekick Ethel. You can guess where their names originated!
Steve was interviewed by Trudi Busey and photographed by Museum photographer Andy Price.