Meet alumna Stephanie Lucas

designing with tulips
Alumna Stephanie Lucas designs tulip plantings for Madison Square Park.

This plant science and landscape architecture graduate thought she might be working in a more rural setting after getting her degree. But instead, Stephanie Lucas describes herself as the maintainer of New York City’s backyard. Being in Manhattan gives her other perks, as well. For one, she trained as a fire breather with the Coney Island Circus!

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? I had a double major in horticulture and turfgrass science with a minor in landscape design. I graduated in 2010.

Please describe your current job. I am the deputy director of operations and horticulture for Madison Square Park in Manhattan. I manage 14 employees and perform park operations for the six-acre park. It is a big job, but it is worthwhile.

I make sure that perennial beds are maintained, and the snow is plowed. In addition, I oversee the setup of events and seasonal displays. Right now, we are working on a strategic plan for our perennial collections. We want to provide education by including information, such as plant names, origins and uses, for people who don’t have access to their own personal green space.

Another park project is a tree succession plan. Our oldest tress are over 300 years old and predate the park. For the future, we want to plant in stages so that the trees don’t all mature at the same time. We would also stagger the removal to preserve the shade.

Spring tulip display
Madison Square Park’s spring flower display.

What CAHNR class was most useful to you? The course that helped me the most with what I do now is Turfgrass Management because I spend a lot of time keeping the grass in Madison Square Park alive. This is complicated by the high expectations that Manhattanites have about what a lawn should look like. The 65,000 people who go through the Park each day don’t seem to realize that high traffic, people who walk on turfgrass in wet weather, dog urine and large shaded areas make lawn maintenance more difficult.

I also benefited from Design of Small Spaces because, in the Park, I am working with a small area.

If I could turn back time, I would have taken a class in irrigation.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. I was president of the UConn Horticulture Club. We put together displays for the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show and the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena fall show and scrambled to do it with little time and a small budget.

I also remember working at the Plant Science Research and Education Facilities, a.k.a. the Research Farm. Each season brought new jobs like learning plant identification so that I could make sure the right weed was in the right pot, working with the turfgrass trials and being involved in field maintenance.

In addition, I enjoyed the extracurricular activities and meeting my husband, a psychology major, at UConn.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? No. I envisioned myself being in Extension or education or a grad student forever. I didn’t think I would move to a big city like New York, but we came here so that my husband could pursue being a comedian.

Plant approvals
Lucas gives the okay for this plant in Madison Square Park.

However, horticulture can be applied in many ways and places. Most people think of Manhattan as a place to work in an office, not horticulture. But, “green” is important for everyone.

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? Students who do these things have an edge when it comes time to seek employment. 1) Read as much as possible. Plant catalogs and books helped me. 2) Network as much as possible in the green industry. Find out about financial aid. 3) Have a drive and a love for what you do. You will be doing it for a while.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I am on the board of Metro Hort Group, which is a tri-state organization for horticultural professionals. I am involved in The Association for Garden Communicators, which used to be called the Garden Writers Association.

By Patsy Evans