There’s never a dull moment for visitor services summer interns working the front desk at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

By Grace Fricano

Working as a summer intern in visitor services and at the Botanical Gardens front desk in particular can be pretty eventful. This is my third year working for the Gardens but my first summer as an intern. Summers are really different from the academic year, when I’ve been employed as a work study. A typical day as a work study meant checking in, pricing, and displaying merchandise, helping with inventory, and decorating holiday trees in the conservatory for the annual winter exhibit. In the summer it’s much busier than I’m used to, with more going on around the gardens. From weddings to snake bites, we see a lot of different situations that we have to deal with at the front desk.
One of our many tasks is fielding questions that visitors may have. We get a lot of random and strange inquiries about plants, event happenings, and the merchandise we sell. This summer, the most popular question at the front desk is “Has that one plant bloomed yet?” While the American agave/century plant is taking its sweet time to bloom, many people are very eager and want to see it right away even though its bloom will last several weeks. We post regular updates about the agave on our website, Facebook page, and blog, and many local and national papers have covered the story of the agave getting ready to bloom. Even so, people want to know about the agave from someone on the scene and so we still get calls for daily updates. It’s fun to hear all the different pronunciations of “agave.” The most popular is “ah-GAYVE,” but we also hear “ah-GUAH-veh” quite often as well. The phone rings regularly with questions concerning the agave. It’s great to see all of the interest in the plant. 
Another recent happening that created quite a buzz at the Gardens was the snake bite. I worked that day with a Matthaei-Nichols staff person who handled the situation and quickly made the call for assistance. It’s a rare occurrence for something like this to happen, but we always have to stay calm, be prepared, and know what to do when it does occur. My co-worker did a great job responding to the situation!
The busiest days by far at the front desk are Saturdays. On summer weekends we usually host two weddings or more. There’s also very high visitor traffic and other various events like birthday parties/meetings/workshops. It’s not uncommon that the parking lot fills up completely at times. Days like that can be crazy! Between the three visitor services interns (Megan, Sydney, and me) we help host weddings, restock the gift shop, and deal with visitors. There can be large crowds that congregate in the lobby. Dealing with multiple people at one time has taught me to be very patient and to be a great multitasker.
I think one of my favorite aspects of working the front desk is all of the people that I get to meet. From employees and interns to visitors, I have interesting conversations with all types of people and learn something new every day. Even though I don’t work directly in the garden most of the time, I’ve learned a lot about botany and other fascinating facts.
We can always handle the crowds and excitement but it makes for some challenging and exciting days. Being able to kick off my shoes at the end of the day feels amazing, but only to return on Sunday, our second busiest day of the week. The summer has been fun, busy, and flying by!

Grace Fricano
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