By Betty Struckhoff
Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
We have lost a wonderful member and friend with the passing of Joe Williamson. His was a life of meaningful work and community involvement, particularly in encouraging landscaping with native plants.
My first encounter with Joe and his wife, Janet, was about 15 years ago. I was new to Wild Ones, and they had just arranged with the Missouri Department of Transportation to seed a MoDOT area at the intersection of Manchester and Topping Road with native plants. Because it was about a mile from my home, I joined the group spreading the seeds on a cold November day and learned a lot from Scott Woodbury who helped coordinate the event. That area is filled with native plants now and, of course, I think of Joe whenever I drive by.
Joe and Janet’s one-acre property was just a bit south of that area off of Topping Road. Through the years, they hosted Wild Ones meetings, and we all enjoyed the luscious plantings in their backyard, which was bisected with a creek. Fran Glass and I recall his willingness to share his knowledge and expertise, a wonderful, gentle teacher at heart. Joe was not a native purist, but like many of us, he liked to keep adding natives to his property. He also participated in garden tours, such as the triennial Missouri Botanical Garden tour, and his garden was featured in a national magazine.
Joe took a practical, scientific approach to problems. Living in the deer capital of the metropolitan area (Town and Country) and having a continual water source in his yard, he had more than his share of the animals. He strung electrical-fence wire. While he was willing to accept some damage to ornamental plants, he didn’t care to share the crop from his fruit trees and berry shrubs. His solution was to obtain a permit from the Missouri Department of Conservation to place a humane trap in his backyard. He then killed the trapped deer with an electric stun gun (which he determined through research was the most humane way) and arranged for the meat to be processed and donated to a food pantry. He said that after a short time the word seemed to get around the deer community to avoid his yard! Leave it to Joe to find a way to solve his problem and benefit others at the same time.
My last visit to Joe’s yard was a couple of years ago to dig plants for Gateway Greening’s Great Perennial Divide. Health issues had forced Joe and Janet to move to a retirement apartment, and he was sharing his wonderful plants one last time. He strolled the yard with the volunteer diggers, pointing out favorite areas. There were several ornamental sculptures by local artists, and he noted one that he was donating to the retirement community – with the proviso it be placed where he and Janet could view it from their apartment balcony.
A celebration of Joe’s life will be held Saturday, June 25, 2016 at The Willows. (Details and more about Joe’s life) He created beautiful spaces for himself while also finding ways to share that beauty with others. What a wonderful example to emulate. I feel very privileged to have known him.