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By Liz Potasek
In the summer of 1988, Janae Miller was studying Wildlife Biology at the University of Minnesota and looking for a summer job, when a job posting from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum caught her attention. She applied, excited by the prospect of working outside after past summer jobs working on an assembly line. Miller got the job and ended up spending that summer working with Mike Heger on the annual and perennial gardens surrounding the Snyder Building. “I loved it,” she says of that first summer, and her passion for the Arboretum kept her coming back.
Thirty-three years later, Miller is a senior gardener at the Arboretum, working with a crew to maintain the grounds. She manages the green space between the gardens on the Arboretum’s 1,200 acres, caring for the grass, helping with snow removal and maintaining the deer fence around the perimeter the Arboretum.
She also makes and maintains the memorial benches at the Arboretum, working closely with the development department. Miller hand builds the trail benches, putting care and consideration into each one. “It’s satisfying work because it means a lot to the family,” she says.
What do your job duties involve?
I’m in charge of all the turf, so the mowing, seeding, fertilizing, aerating and spraying weeds. We’re trying to be pollinator-friendly, so we’re cutting back on spraying a lot. I maintain almost four miles of deer fence, with more to come along the new bike trail. I also help with snow and ice removal on the grounds throughout the winter.
And then I do so many things behind the scenes, like clearing out the brush and compost bins, so that there’s a place to put all the brush and compost that’s collected throughout the grounds.
Luckily we have really good equipment, and I have a crew (with one full-time and two part-time staff) that’s been together for some time. We know what we need to get done each day. When we come to the end of the week, we hopefully have everything done and then we come back Monday and start all over.
Why are you passionate about your work here at the Arboretum?
It’s such a special place. There’s so much to the Arboretum, and I get to see it all. I love being on the trails, seeing wildlife and experiencing nature. Sometimes you just have to say ‘Wow, this is my job.’
I also enjoy being able to conquer the challenges of each day and each season. I love being outside as the seasons change. I still learn something new every day after all these years. I work with very knowledgeable and talented coworkers.
What is your earliest memory of gardening or nature?
When I was growing up, one of my neighbor’s was a teacher, and she got me involved with the Audubon Society and bird watching. That kind of sparked my interest in nature. I also just loved fishing and being outside.
What inspired your career path?
I helped a lot on my grandpa’s farm growing up, driving tractors and all this equipment. His farm was south of Brownton in McLeod County, not far from Schaefer’s Prairie. As a little girl, I loved driving the tractors.
I was also inspired by the five summers I spent working an assembly line at 3M, and realizing that I’d be happier working outside. I just needed to be outside.
Do you have a home garden?
Yes, it’s part perennial because that’s what my husband wanted, and it’s part vegetables because I need my reward at the end of the season for all the hard work. I like to grow vegetables so I can make and preserve salsa, as well as vegetables for salads.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
What’s awesome about mowing is when you’re done, you turn around and you have instant satisfaction. Getting our jobs done each week, and looking back over our shoulders to see what got accomplished is always rewarding.
As an expert in your field, do you have any tricks, tips or advice that would help our readers?
Mow high, and keep your blades sharp. You want to leave your clippings on the lawn and let them compost. Stay off your grass if it’s a drought, and don’t overreact in the spring and get out too soon to start raking when the grass is too tender. Be patient.
Editor’s note: Read more about the people who inspire our organization. Each month, we highlight a different member of our team in our “Growing with” series.