Visitor Engagement summer intern Kirsten Neal’s inventory of the goings-on at Matthaei-Nichols is a reminder of the complexity of our organization, how visitors may experience us, and just how much is happening here on any given day.
|“What is this plant?” people may
ask. When this “corpse” lily
(Amorphophallus konjac) blooms,
visitors drive to Matthaei from miles
away to see the flower—and smell
its putrid fragrance.
Some visitors see our spaces as a living museum full of plants they’ve never heard of before, or maybe ones that they had seen somewhere but never knew the name of until they visited. Others are horticulture enthusiasts who ask us if they can write some labels themselves for areas they deem lacking. And there is the woman who visits weekly to photograph something new every time she visits. Whoever they are, all visitors leave with their own personal take on who we are, depending on what they experience.
There are performances in our spaces by students and faculty. Shakespeare in the Arb is one well-known example. Kate Mendeloff, who directs Shakespeare, also brings students in each spring to perform a play in the conservatory.
|Students from the group UMBees inspect hives near the Campus
Farm at Matthaei.
There are meetings of every kind and of every size imaginable. Some, like the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers, meet monthly in our spaces. Others, such as Michigan Botanical Club, Sierra Club, Ann Arbor Farm and Garden, or Ann Arbor Bonsai Society, meet more, or less, frequently.
|Matthaei-Nichols Collections & Natural Areas Specialist
Tom O’Dell (right, in cap), discusses the day’s work plan
with volunteers from Ford.
There are volunteers, often dozens of them on a given day, performing work here that directly impacts the visitor experience: docents, ambassadors, orchid and bonsai volunteers, invasive-plant weeders, conductors of school tours, restorers of habitats. The volunteers themselves are visitors who bring their own set of expectations to the Arb and Gardens and who each leave with an individual experience of their time here.
There are joggers who routinely use the trails as their gym, both in the early hours of the morning and past closing time. (NOTE: Trails open sunrise to sunset!)
There are faculty and student research projects taking places in our buildings and outdoors. Even though many of these happen behind the scenes, the projects represent a critical aspect of our operations.
There are weddings and wedding receptions, where for months the couple has dreamed of having their ceremony in the conservatory, in the perennial garden, in the Alexandra Hicks Herb Knot Garden, in the gateway garden, or on Willow Pond Island. And if they choose to stay, they enjoy their reception from the auditorium and terrace. The bride even has her final dressing in Room 164 before walking down the aisle. They have their rehearsal here, where they get out some pre-wedding jitters, as well as multiple meetings to finalize all the details.
|Did I mention the plant sales? These draw big crowds,
especially at events like the Mother’s Day Sale every May.
I know that I have barely skimmed the surface on all the happenings here at the Gardens. I didn’t even dive into all of the plant sales and special exhibitions or events that occur all of the time.
Kirsten Neal is from Brighton, Michigan and recently graduated with a degree in history and museum studies. She doesn’t know what she’ll do next, but is excited to be a visitor engagement intern this summer! Kirsten’s internship is made possible by the Matthaei-Nichols Membership Fund and by individual donors.