By Sebastian Kasparian
One thing I’ve come to learn since starting my Nature Academy internship at Matthaei-Nichols this May: it takes a lot of time and effort by many people to keep this place running in tip-top shape. From weeding to welcoming, there’s no shortage of work to be done. I suspect as well that this would take the average person by surprise. I think that for a lot of us, looking in from the outside gives the impression that things that look good stay so on their own. The reality, however, is that mulch doesn’t spread itself, flowers don’t plant themselves, and from lots of personal experience I can tell you that grass doesn’t cut itself either.

A few tools of the trade.
Here’s a flavor of some of the projects I’ve worked on so far: Keeping up the appearance of the gardens and arboretum by trimming grass and weeds; pulling invasives out in the trails and in Horner Woods; laying mulch and gravel around the display gardens; and learning to identify native plants among many others. (Story continues below.)

Invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
is a common sight in these parts and one

plant we try to remove whenever and
wherever we see it. We even devote 
all-intern workdays to pulling out
garlic mustard. The University of 
Michigan Herbarium database notes 
that garlic mustard is native to 
Europe and Asia and naturalized 
locally in North America. Its 
spread has been recent, however, 
with the first collection in 
Michigan recorded in 1956 in 
Kent Co.  See:

An intern workday on the Sam Graham Trail.

After weeks of hard work and preparation, 
Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden   
came to a successful full bloom recently. 
The garden is a good example of a space
that looks like it happens naturally when
in fact there’s a huge amount of work
involved to make it shine. The peonies
are staked, and this makes a big difference
in the appearance of the garden. 
Then, as
the individual flowers fade t
hroughout the 
bloom season, interns, staff, and volunteers
remove spent flowers.

I’ve also learned that luckily there’s no shortage of staff members (including us interns!) who are willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears (mostly sweat) that bring life to both Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. That includes not just us on the farm and field side of things, but those who work in administration, visitor services, education, research, you name it. I personally can’t think of a better way to define a team effort.

Something else I’ve learned since May: interning here is a good reminder of why I applied in the first place. Spending so much time at Matthaei and the Arboretum has rekindled my interest in nature, which had taken a back seat with all the stress involved in simply trying to get through my University of Michigan education in one piece. A personal de-stressing story from my early student days: I remember my first visit to the Arb after only my second week at the University of Michigan, when the transition was making me feel quite overwhelmed. A stroll down the riverfront with a few good friends, however, was all it took to shift the apprehension from the front to the back of my mind. It was a good way to center myself and stay focused on my goals for the rest of the semester, and I’m glad it’s something I can always fall back on as a way to stay calm.

I remember first becoming interested in the environment when my family moved from the suburbs to a more rural, forested area back in about 2004. I fully embraced the change, and consequently ended up spending almost all of my time outdoors. Catching frogs, finding snakes, and collecting leaves became my favorite pastimes as a kid.  While I may not spend my time at the gardens bothering frogs or making friends with massasaugas, the enthusiasm is still there. That tells me that I must be in the right place right now, and I can appreciate that little bit of peace of mind. Going forward from here, I’m definitely going to make the time to get out of the city and visit the Arboretum and Matthaei more often when I’m on campus. If nothing else, it might give me that little bit of extra motivation to push through the semester.

Sebastian Kasparian, from Canton, Mich., will be entering his junior year at U-M in fall 2017. He is a recently declared PitE major (Program in the Environment, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts) with an interest in sustainability and environmental policy. Sebastian is working this summer as a landscaping intern. His hobbies include playing instruments, watching films, and visiting new places. Sebastian’s internship is made possible by Matthaei-Nichols membership dollars and individual donors.

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