February 2020 CityMaker:

Stacy Smith

By Jonathan Camargo

For all of life, a name follows us. On birthdays, it’s written in colorful frosting. At graduation, it’s shouted from the bleachers and nosebleeds. On our graves, it’s etched into stone accompanied by a start and end date. Between those two dates lies a solitary dash, a brief summation of our life’s work and accomplishments concentrated to the form of a single character.

How we choose to live every day is another chapter in the story of the dash we leave behind. Though this life is anything but guaranteed, perhaps our words, our actions, and our love for one another will live on, immortalized by the human spirit in which we all share.

Our February 2020 Lakeland CityMaker is a storyteller, keeping our town’s dash alive, lest the tales of yesteryear be forgotten.

The Gardens

On any given day, the banks of Lake Mirror are spotted with friends and families taking full advantage of the Central Florida lifestyle we’ve so luckily been afforded. Walkers, joggers, and the occasional flock of ducks share the sidewalk, flanked by the promenade, the newly opened Joinery, and Barnett Family Park.

Just a few strides away lies one of Lakeland’s premier picture-taking destinations: a lakefront botanical garden that shares the name of one of our community’s most charitable families.

Opened in 2000, Hollis Garden is home to a variety of exotic plants, fauna, and neoclassical architecture. From the koi ponds to the centerpiece fountain, the garden is popular among Lakeland residents and tourists alike.

Much of what can be seen at the garden today is thanks to former foreman, resident historian, and plant enthusiast Stacy Smith.

Stacy is a lifelong Lakeland resident. Although he’s travelled across the world, he’s always come back, typically with a story or two to share with all those willing to lend a listening ear.

An Individual’s Impact

Stacy started working for the city in 1987. A 17-year-old at the time, it was with youthful vigor and a passion for plants that he was drawn to Lakeland’s rose gardens. Here, he tended to some of our town’s finest flowers, though working for the city often took him elsewhere.

Among the many hats he’s worn in our community, Stacy has done everything from landscaping to working in the city nursery, but there’s always been one common element following him wherever life seems to take him: his unwilted, and unrelenting, love for plants. 

As a child, Stacy knew he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. In present day, he’s now living his childhood dream, albeit it in a slightly different fashion.

You can look in nearly every direction of our city and see where Stacy’s had a hand in shaping the beauty of our ecological environment, but no one place stands out more than Hollis Garden where he worked for 19 years. 

“I’ve gotten to grow plants for the city that were, in a lot of cases, rare,” Stacy shared. “When I say that, I don’t want to give too much away, but we have a frankincense tree in Hollis Garden and that’s one of the rarest things you can get in the United States.”

Among the multitude of other greenery at the garden are dragon’s blood trees from the Aztec religion and tree-grown fruit that tastes just like peanut butter, to name a few. If you were to visit, however, you may notice that none of the plants at the garden are named.

“We don’t put labels on things because we don’t want things disappearing, but we’re there for information,” Stacy explained.

Although Stacy is no longer the foreman of Hollis Garden, his legacy lives on in the plants he carefully tended to for the years he spent therein.

Hidden History

Nearly 10 years ago, Stacy received an email from Lakeland Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Pam Page. She shared with him an article about cities finding creative ways of making money for their departments.

Stacy, still the foreman of Hollis Garden at the time, was already giving tours of the garden, where he received donations that fed directly into Hollis’ perpetual care fund. Connecting the dots, Stacy’s curiosity grew outside the scope of the garden’s 1.2 acres.