Caroline Golbeck

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

Winter is great, don’t get me wrong – cozy sweaters, thick knitted scarves, hot drinks – but by about January 1, I find myself longing for warmth, sun, and pretty much anything but snow. I want greenery. I want plants. Hammocking between the spring trees…

I’m getting ahead of myself. Winter really is a beautiful time in Michigan, despite the snow (and by ‘snow’ I mean absolute treachery) that comes along with it. I love the season just as much as the next Midwesterner, but I’m always eager for the days of green grass and swimsuits.

Winter fun flier

I’ve learned a lot from my internship at Matthaei Botanical Gardens this summer, but one of the best things I’ve gained from it is the knowledge that, during this upcoming winter, I don’t have to wish for that greenery and warmth anymore.

I can get it.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens is open year-round, meaning you don’t have to pack up and migrate to Florida for the winter if you’re looking for a quick getaway from the cold. Our conservatory at the gardens is a tropical house, so you know what that means, right?

Tropical temperatures. In Michigan. In the winter.

If that doesn’t already sound too good to be true, allow me to further sweeten the pot. Admission is always free (aside from a small fee for parking), making Matthaei Botanical Gardens one of the best places to go in the winter if you need a little escape from the frigid temps and that face-slapping wind that we all know too well.

Despite all of these great features, winter is one of the slowest seasons here at the gardens. As a visitor engagement and event planning intern, I’ve come up with a plan that could be implemented for a winter event at Matthaei that, while providing a getaway from the cold, would also encourage visitors to find the joy in a Michigan winter (because we all need a reminder sometimes). Pictured is a sample flyer that I created for this event proposal, which could be used for physical and digital marketing purposes if this event were to be implemented for the upcoming season.

The plan includes setting up a display of ice sculptures that we would commission from the University of Michigan Ice Carving Team. My vision is to have these ice carvings displayed in our bonsai garden, which is just a few steps to the left when exiting out the back of the conservatory. Setting these sculptures up in our bonsai garden would be ideal, as there are no bonsai on display during the colder months. Keeping the area of outdoor activity contained to a small space like the bonsai garden (as opposed to spreading throughout our multiple gardens) would allow us to easily direct visitors while minimizing the time spent outdoors in the cold as well.

Since daylight hours are limited in the winter, and since this would likely be an after-hours event (meaning after 4:30 PM), a simple paper-bag lantern craft would help light up the night. Keeping the main appeal of the event – the ice sculptures – contained to the bonsai garden would increase our ability to provide some outdoor lighting as well, as it would be very simple to string some lights throughout that particular garden.

After venturing outdoors to see the ice sculptures, visitors could then wander back inside to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate from our hot chocolate bar. These exist. In fact, there’s a company in Sterling, MI called Party Café that specializes in them. Before leaving, visitors could also grab a winter nature guide that we would create to encourage repeat visits to the gardens throughout the winter. A template for the schedule of the events is shown here.


For this project, I also created a sample budget that outlines the costs of producing an event of this type. In order to make a profit, we would want to consider charging admission tickets within the range of $15-$20, with some variance between members and nonmembers.

I hope to work with various staff members at Matthaei-Nichols to turn this idea from a proposal to a production. Stay tuned! We hope to see you in the winter!

Caroline Golbeck is a visitor engagement and event planning Intern from Illinois studying communications and food and the environment at the University of Michigan. This summer, she hopes to (finally) finish reading the Harry Potter series, acquire a green thumb, and complete her Ann Arbor coffee shop and taco bucket list. Caroline’s internship was made possible by Matthaei-Nichols members and individual donors.

Caroline Golbeck
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