Katie Stannard, Nature Academy intern coordinator and part of the Visitor Engagement front desk team, shared some heartwarming stories she’s gathered from our visitors:
At the front desk, we hear so many things from our visitors: questions, compliments, concerns, and a plethora of stories. I’ve been stockpiling some of the more notable stories and positive comments to share.
We know not the impact our spaces have on the souls of the people who walk in our doors. But it’s a pretty good bet that their experiences will be like the dewfall, lingering to refresh and energize them, hopefully for long after they’ve left.
Here they are — small missives of heartfelt gratitude:
Koi pond
  • A mom with three little kids, new to the area, on a day off from school: “Oh my gosh I’m so grateful for this place!”
  • A woman purchased $200 worth of stuffed owls, games and other things for a tea party for her friend’s granddaughters — not even her own relatives! — to help encourage their curiosity about nature.
  • Eyes welling up, a visitor told his story after visiting the conservatory: “I had a loss… I came here looking for peace… I took the day off from work to be here.”
  • Around graduation time, Denice and I had a powerful conversation with a woman who was skipping her graduation from EMU to come out to the gardens. She shared that she was graduating with a degree in social work, looking forward to helping others like her who were survivors of human trafficking.
  • A mother and her adult daughter came in late one Wednesday night — it seemed as if the daughter was possibly suffering from the long-term effects of anorexia. They excitedly bought butterfly ornaments for their Christmas tree, and the daughter said, “I love this place, it gives me peace.”
  • A visitor told the story of her botany class from the late 60s. She shared that they grew cuttings of plants from the conservatory and had to learn plant names. For the final exam, the plant tags were removed and they had to list all the names. She said they were so happy to take home everything they’d grown — including beautiful hanging baskets like fuschia — long before hanging baskets were commercially available.
  • (Get your tissues ready for this one.) A man visited in October 2019 and was on his phone for much of the time. While restocking, I asked casually if I could help him with anything. Through tears, he told me he had come that day because it would have been his daughter’s 25th birthday. She died March 17, and the family was gathering to see the new tribute bench for her on the trails. He showed me a gorgeous, vibrant photo of his daughter, named Jessie, and said that her sister was still so overwrought she couldn’t join them. We both were teary. (And I can’t read this without getting teary again!)
  • From a visitor who used to head a botanical garden in England: “It’s a beautiful garden, wonderfully done, very impressive.”
  • At least twice an older woman has purchased $500-$700 worth of games, toys and t-shirts. She generously donates everythingto benefit children through orphanages, reservations, and social service organizations. When her daughter from California visits, they journey (something like two hours!) to Matthaei for this important endeavor.
  • Talking with a visitor about how she proudly enjoys fun and the fun of the gardens, she related how her then-husband disparagingly asked her, “Why is fun so important to you?!” Indeed! As she said, “That was a good clue that we shouldn’t be together!”
  • From another visitor, returning for the first time in a long time: “I’d forgotten how restorative and inspiring it is to be here.”
  • From the young boy at the goldfish pond, watching the fish frolic: “They’re dancing for me!” (Though more likely they were procreating… but that’s a lesson for later in life!)
A current Matthaei-Nichols staff member shares this personal story:
My dad passed away unexpectedly in 2011. He loved plants and nature and felt most at peace when he was landscaping or tinkering outside. I guess that’s where I get my love of plants and nature from.
I always felt at home in the botanical gardens and often came to the conservatory for some peace and reflection prior to working at Matthaei-Nichols. On one of the anniversaries of his death (March 2018), I took the day off from work and came to the conservatory to reflect and relax. I stumbled upon a “kindness rock” that a visitor had left. It said “Do Your Best.” Instantly my eyes welled up and I took this as a sign from my dad since this was something he always, always, always said to me about life, work, and everything in between.
I left the stone for someone else to discover and went about my day. Just a few months after that anniversary, I accepted a position at the Arb and Gardens in September 2018. It’s a job and place my dad would love to know I’m involved in. When I look back on finding the stone that day, it comforts me to think that, somehow, my father had a hand in where I’d eventually work and that he could still speak to me after all those years.
Do your best kindness rock