Like many organizations, Matthaei-Nichols is forging ahead through new and uncharted territory. Without interns, student employees, and volunteers this summer, our staff are working in different roles or in different ways. Here are more of their stories.
At every botanical garden, there is the magic that occurs when the gardens are maintained by staff–work that is done and not seen. Kayla Wanous, horticulture technician, refers to this as the “unseen footprints”–making it look as if the horticulturists weren’t there. With far fewer staff making footprints this summer, Wanous’ responsibility for a number of display gardens is an enormous task, and the weeds somehow sense their advantage. She’s recruited staff for work days to weed and help plant–especially in planting her design for the Gateway Garden. Like ripples in the nearby fountains, a wave of cannas flows through each of the four beds, paralleled by annual tides in reds, pinks and yellows, accented with white, orange and purple. And speaking of water flow, when an irrigation pump failed during the recent heat wave/dry spell, Wanous was one of the staff hauling a multitude of hoses around to keep plants alive!
Mike Stadler’s work as equipment manager takes him into every corner of the arb and gardens for general maintenance, prevention, and facilitating repairs. That recent pump failure meant coordinating its replacement through U-M facilities and operations–now fixed and much more reliable. He noted that “It’s been a different summer–usually four interns help with mowing and general work. It’s tricky without them. We do what we can.” Another big project–installing bonsai stands in the conservatory. This took place only after the stay-at-home order was lifted and the volunteer-builder could deliver the benches onsite.
Carmen Leskoviansky has spent the last four months among the trees–including some that will find permanent homes on those bonsai stands. As collections and natural areas specialist, she’s cared for over 70 bonsai trees since March–normally 3-5 volunteers would assist for 4-6 hours every week, aided by a full-time summer intern. While the time with the bonsai is meditative, Leskoviansky has been able to focus squarely on the trees, providing flexibility for some weaker ones to strengthen. Much of the work was done in the new bonsai enclosure area: even when it was 30℉ outside, inside stayed a steady 50℉, due to the double-wall polycarbonate structure, aided by heaters to maintain the constant temperature needed for the collection.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that sow seeds for novel ideas. Early spring weeding in the Gateway Garden with Wanous inspired Liz Glynn, youth education coordinator, to engage volunteer docents in developing virtual activities for children and educators. She thought about how often the work done by horticulture staff is unseen by the public and sometimes unseen by other staff. She pondered: “How can we create educational components about these gardens, and how can we make those elements as accessible as possible?” Glynn reached out to the Matthaei-Nichols docents for their input. A dedicated core group of docents–volunteers who receive 35+ hours of training to lead school groups–has assembled virtually to craft plans, learning many new skills in the process. Glynn applauds their efforts, saying, “Folks have given a lot of their time to develop creative ways to share nature-based e-learning with teachers, parents, and kids.” Stay tuned for details about these new initiatives.
But back to the excess of weeds where all of this started. Glynn shared that the physical work of weeding was beneficial “because it was so concrete: where an area was full of weeds, to clear them and have done something productive,” a simple, mindful task resulting in a distinct sense of accomplishment. Such an important, sound concept for gardeners in general, and for anyone during this acute time: pick one thing, work at it for awhile, make progress–then move on to the next thing.
In case you missed it: Plants Need People, Part 1 debuted last week on our blog.
We are currently making plans for a safe return of staff and reopening to visitors following public health and safety guidelines. We’re coordinating our efforts with the University of Michigan to ensure we’re ready for you to visit safely. We have not identified a reopening date at this time, but will update Matthaei-Nichols communications channels when information is available.