Ralph Bendel Jr.

by Michael Cooper


As Ralph Bendel gave me a tour of the gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art, I came to see the space with a new set of eyes. Bendel, the senior horticulturist of the gardens, explained with pride the art of maintaining the vision of Waite and Genevieve Phillips (the museum’s founders) and the hard work of being a gardener.

A hobbyist photographer himself, Bendel’s face beamed with pride as he recognized that the gardens would provide just the right setting.

“The color is brilliant right now,” he said. “I’ve taken many photographs out here with slide film on my old camera.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. The wet fall morning made the plants in the garden pop to the eye.

Bendel was hired on a temp basis to prune dead wood from Philbrook’s large oak trees in September of 1970, and became a full-time employee in March of 1971. Bendel remained part of the crew until 1977 when he was promoted to “Superintendent of the Garden,” which has more or less been his job since, except his title has changed to Senior Horticulturist.

But it isn’t the changes in the job title that keeps Bendel content.

“In the middle of every season I find myself saying, ‘Maybe this is my favorite season in the Garden,'” Bendel told me.

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