Horticulture Lead (reopened as of May 1st)

Yerkes Observatory
373 West Geneva St, Williams Bay, WI 53191
$56,000 - $68,000 a year - Full-time

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  • $56,000 - $68,000 a year

Job type

  • Full-time

Shift and schedule

  • Weekends as needed
  • Nights as needed
  • Day shift
  • On call


373 West Geneva St, Williams Bay, WI 53191

Pulled from the full job description

  • 401(k) matching
  • Dental insurance
  • Employee discount
  • Flexible spending account
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Paid time off

Full job description

Note: This position was reopened as of May 1st

About Yerkes Observatory

This position offers a rare opportunity for the right candidate to make their mark on one of the iconic institutions and landscapes in the history of science.

Yerkes is known globally as the birthplace of modern astrophysics and remains the home to the world’s largest refracting telescope. Since 1897, an impressive list of noteworthy science luminaries have worked and studied here. This list includes Edwin Hubble, Gerard Kuiper, Carl Sagan, Nancy Grace Roman (NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy and the namesake of NASA’s next space telescope), and Nobel Prize winners Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Gerhard Herzberg.

Located on Wisconsin’s Geneva Lake Yerkes Observatory opened to the public for the first time in 2022. It is roughly an hour each from metro Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison, within 75 miles of a population of 11 million potential visitors. The historic Observatory, which rests amid 50 acres of grounds designed by the legendary Olmsted firm, was recently designated a certified arboretum. Like the building and telescopes, the grounds are undergoing renewal, restoration, and rehabilitation.

In 2020, Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF) assumed long-term stewardship from the University of Chicago for preserving and restoring the Yerkes Observatory and its landscape. The Wisconsin-based foundation is currently leading an initial $30M campaign to restore and build the staff and programs. Future fundraising is planned for operations, endowment, and program growth. A significant portion of the initial $30M goal has already been raised. Restoration and major construction work on the site has been underway since mid-2020.

The goal of YFF is to ensure Yerkes continues to advance science while transforming the Observatory and its grounds into a destination for science and discovery. The mission is to create a distinctive and singular experience where science, ecology, culture, arts, and curiosity cross-pollinate in novel and unique ways. Yerkes will be a national leader in growing the public’s understanding and engagement with science and astronomy, presenting public talks by science luminaries and cultural influencers, offering school programs, hosting nighttime star viewings, providing interesting outdoor experiences in our landscape, and more.

Yerkes Future Foundation is committed to advancing diversity in the sciences and in employment. YFF does not discriminate in its hiring or employment practices. We encourage and actively solicit applications from diverse candidates.

About the Position

This newly-created position is responsible for leading the vision, planting, care, presentation and overall health of the historic fifty-acre landscape at Yerkes, a certified arboretum. The Horticulture Lead designs and cares for plantings, floriculture and horticulture and are the lead for overall landscape planning and care, working in concert with the facilities staff, board members, and volunteers. The duties of this position change seasonally.

The Horticulture Lead designs and implements detailed landscape plans, working to integrate the input of donors, volunteers, and contracted experts. This includes envisioning and prioritizing seasonal projects, planting, fertilizing, applying chemical and natural products, monitoring site and plantings for disease and pests, watering, weeding, and pruning throughout the site. Some of this work they will accomplish themselves, while other tasks will be planned for staff, volunteers or contractors, working in consultation with colleagues in the Facilities and Grounds department.

Portions of the Yerkes landscape were designed by the Olmsted Firm and are thus historic in nature. The person in this position is expected to familiarize themselves with the original designs and with the Olmsted firm and their philosophies, and use that expertise to support the recreation of those historic portions of the landscape. At the same time, they are also charged with working to ensure other portions of the grounds at Yerkes are activated to support contemporary visitor needs.

The Horticulture Lead will also lead occasional public landscape tours, work with YFF Trustees to organize events and will lead volunteers and help organize and lead volunteer events supporting the landscape. They will manage contractors and landscape experts, develop beneficial relationships with local greenhouses and service providers, and provide guidance and advice to others on landscape priorities, needs and care.

In the offseason they are involved in propagating plantings for future seasons using donated or rented greenhouse space and working with the Facilities team on wider projects including trail maintenance, leaf and snow removal, tree pruning and removal, landscape cleanup and improvement, and (as needed/assigned) building maintenance projects. Yerkes is an “all hands on deck” organization and hence all staff are expected to be involved in a wide range of duties.

This position does require being on-call on a rotating basis as well as occasional night/weekend work for public programs (scheduled in advance).

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Responsible for the overall health, quality and appearance of the Yerkes landscape.
  • Implements detailed landscape designs and plans based on a Landscape Master Plan they will be a participant in creating.
  • Works to gather input from colleagues, board members, volunteers and contractors and synthesize it into actionable plans.
  • Works to organize and help lead the efforts of a corps of volunteers. Keeps up beneficial relationships with Trustees, volunteers, contractors and partners.
  • Develops a detailed, written annual horticulture maintenance plan and schedule for the site and oversees its implementation.
  • Plants, transplants, fertilizes, applies chemicals and natural agents, waters, prunes, thins and weeds the Observatory landscape.
  • Works with the Facilities and Grounds Supervisor on grounds maintenance, including taking the lead on horticulture maintenance.
  • Proactively inspects plantings for pests and disease, treating as necessary to minimize losses and infestations.
  • Monitors developments at peer organizations and within the field overall.
  • Ensures that visitors safety is paramount while work is underway, and that the grounds and plantings are of exceptionally high quality and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Focuses effort on minimizing the use of chemicals in the landscape over time, investigating, evaluating and implementing bio-friendly practices, IPM and biocontrol programs as appropriate.
  • Plants and propagates bedding plants; may manage greenhouse operations and/or manage the utilization of donated or rented greenhouse space to economically provide needed plantings.
  • Records data and keeps accurate records for plantings, propagation, and site history and maps.
  • Assists in the work direction and on-the-job training for part-time horticulture personnel, volunteers and interns.
  • Participates in the annual budgeting process via the Director of Facilities, connecting future plans and needs for horticulture to financial requirements.
  • May provide tours to donors and the public of the landscape and facilities, participating with the Visitor Services/Tours staff in developing and delivering content.
  • Is trained as part of the Facilities staff to respond appropriately to emergencies such as lost children, visitor injuries or medical emergencies, severe weather situations and so on.
  • May operate a motor vehicle to transport materials and equipment, as appropriate to the position.
  • Responsible for maintaining a safe work environment for self, staff and the public. Secures work areas and tools, marks open holes, checks with utility services for safety before digging, wears appropriate protective gear, handles chemicals safely, and so on.
  • Ensures proper care in the use and maintenance of equipment and supplies; promotes continuous improvement of workplace safety and environmental practices.
  • Maintains any required safety or data sheets for landscape materials stored onsite.
  • Assists with snow removal activities.
  • Assists with lawn maintenance activities.
  • Picks up and disposes of litter.
  • Assists in tree removal and clean up as required.
  • Performs miscellaneous job-related duties as assigned.

Minimum Qualifications for the Position -

  • Associates Degree or a BA/BS.
  • A minimum of 3 years of experience leading a horticulture program in a landscape setting with a visiting public, such as a public park or golf course. "Leading" meaning managing the vision for the landscape and day-to-day efforts, as well as other staff or contractors.
  • Knowledge of horticulture methods and materials, landscaping and cultivation appropriate to the site and region.
  • Experience creating, interpreting and completing basic landscape plans.
  • Ability to use hand and power tools, along with large power equipment such as deck mowers, tractors, bobcats and similar.
  • Ability to perform all grounds maintenance tasks as directed
  • Knowledge of fertilizer and/or pesticide applications.
  • Ability to lift and manipulate heavy objects.
  • Ability to read, understand, follow, and enforce safety procedures.
  • A valid driver’s license

Preferred Qualifications for the Position:

  • A Bachelor's or advanced degree in horticulture, landscape management or similar.
  • At least 5 or more years of applicable horticulture leadership experience, ideally in a highly curated site such as a botanic garden, zoo, sculpture park, or similar.
  • Previous experience creating and leading the implementation of sophisticated landscape plans and projects over multi-year time horizons.
  • Prior experience implementing eco-friendly landscape management practices.
  • Experience interacting with the public and public speaking.
  • Prior experience managing contracts and contractors.

Work Requirements

  • This work involves almost constant exposure to unusual elements such as extreme temperatures, toxic chemicals, biohazardous materials, dirt, dust, fumes, smoke, pollen, insects and/or loud noises.
  • This work requires the ability to operate heavy equipment, vehicles, mowers, golf carts and other motorized items.
  • This work requires extensive strenuous physical labor; heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling required of objects over 50 pounds on a regular basis.
  • This position requires the candidate to work occasional nights and weekends for special events or weather related incidents (tours, snow removal, tree removal, weddings, etc.)

NOTE: Please include BOTH a cover letter explaining your interest in the position, and a resume when applying.

Job Type: Full-time

Pay: $56,000.00 - $68,000.00 per year


  • 401(k) matching
  • Dental insurance
  • Employee discount
  • Flexible spending account
  • Health insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Paid time off
  • Vision insurance


  • Day shift

Work Location: In person

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