Welcome and thanks for your interest in volunteering with the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

Volunteers currently contribute 11,000 annual hours to our programs working alongside staff, interns, and fellow volunteers.

Take some time to review the opportunities below and see what might be a good fit for you and your schedule. The next step will then be to fill out our online application for follow-up by the Volunteer Coordinator. Some opportunities require additional training, background checks, and kick-off sessions throughout the year which will be discussed after applying.

Please note: Volunteers who are part of the docent team, any ambassador roles, and any Gaffield Children’s Garden roles will need to have a background check conducted prior to starting their first shift and every 2 years thereafter. 

Questions before applying? Contact the Volunteer & Membership Engagement Manager, Christine Chessler-Stull, at Cmchess@umich.edu 

Volunteer Opportunities

Education & U-M Students


Our docents spark curiosity and a love of the natural world in kids of all ages through the Arb and Gardens’ school and youth programming. For many of the docents, it’s the unique combination of personal interest and educational development that inspires them to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with others. A comprehensive eight-week training, ongoing education, and two-year commitment is required. This opportunity is recruited for only as-needed (often a 2-year cycle). We likely will recruit again in 2024!

  • Lead school-age children in guided interpretive programs that emphasize exploration and discovery. Programs satisfy Michigan Science Education standards (weekday mornings/academic year)
  • Lead youth and families in activities that promote environmental enjoyment and stewardship. (evenings and weekends/ year-round)
  • Conduct occasional adult tours
  • Work with fellow docents and staff to develop educational materials
  • Enjoy a rewarding service-learning opportunity

Read all about what an impact our Docents make to our volunteer program and their own lives here.

Campus Farm (UM Students Only)

Part of the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) the Campus Farm is located at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. As much laboratory as classroom, the Campus Farm connects students with nature through small-scale food production. Workdays are scheduled throughout the growing season. Volunteer information for this program can be found here. 

Natural Areas

Eco-Restoration Workdays (year round)

These public stewardship events are held each month at the Arb (2nd Saturdays) and Gardens (3rd Saturdays) from 9 am-noon. Full details about how to join as an individual or group can be found here. To receive monthly email reminders about these workdays sign up below:

Join the Eco-Workdays List

Restoration, Trails & Trees

Learn more about your favorite natural areas & trails while you help preserve the native eco-systems at the Arb & Gardens! Activities primarily include the removal of non-native, invasive plants. Fall/winter work involves the use of loppers and hand saws as well as cutting, dragging, and piling brush. Spring/summer work primarily involves hand weeding.

Volunteers may also help with general trail maintenance activities include lining, clearing of fallen debris, pruning trailside plants, erosion control, litter pick up, and some limited construction projects. Occasional tree care activities include planting, mulching, caging, staking and pruning.

Prescribed Burn Crew (Fall & Spring)

Our prescribed burn team learns about and participates in the use of controlled fire as a restoration tool. All activities are physically demanding. Volunteers are on call for weekday, afternoon burns (1:00-4:00pm) at the Arb & Gardens. Flexible schedule is required. Formal classroom training is offered in October, but volunteers can be accepted outside that time as well. 

Visitor Services

Garden Ambassadors

Ambassador roles are for volunteers who have a love of learning and interest in working with a diverse population of visitors, including children and families. Shifts are variable based on the specific Ambassador program. May-October time frame, with the exception of the Peony program only having June shifts.

  • Gaffield Children’s Garden Ambassador 
  • Garden Ambassador
  • Peony Ambassador

Each of these programs has a spring kick-off and required training. Email the Volunteer Coordinator to further discuss. 

Special Events & Plant Sales

Volunteers who like engaging with diverse audiences during variable sized events will welcome this opportunity! The majority of our special events and plant sales happen during May, June, September, October, and December annually. Volunteer roles are often greeters, parking assistants, plant assistants, usher, craft and special activity assistant, etc. 

Examples of our events and plant sales that often involve volunteers are:

  • May- Mother’s Day Plant Sale & Artist Market, Peony Sale
  • June- Shakespeare in the Arb nightly performances 
  • September- Native Plant Sale, Cactus and Succulent Sale
  • October- Zombie Run and Pumpkins, Lanterns, and Leaves
  • December- Winter Artist Market and Father Christmas 

Horticulture (Gardens & Plants)


Enjoy the tropical, temperate, and arid environments of the Conservatory and assist with general maintenance. Activities include weeding, pruning, watering, seasonal plantings, signage care, and other work to help make the Conservatory look inviting and neat. Only recruiting for this position as-needed given the specialized work and small volunteer team. 


The Conservatory is home to more than 1,000 species of plants including special collections (such as bonsai, cactus/succulents, tropical species, etc) that are maintained by skilled volunteers – or in some cases those who are interested in these plant species and eager to learn on the job! These opportunities are limited given the specialized care that these collections require and overall staff needs. If you have an interest, and/or experience in these areas, please email the Volunteer Coordinator directly to discuss. Only recruiting for this position as-needed given the specialized work and small volunteer team. 

Gaffield Children’s Garden Team

2022: We are currently not recruiting for any roles in the GCG. 

Enjoy this playful, interactive landscape as you help tend 15 unique feature gardens – including veggies, herbs, butterfly, fairy & troll knoll and more! Volunteers must enjoy working in a kid-friendly atmosphere.

Additional opportunities for hands-on/family volunteer work in this garden exist, such as nature play pop-ups and Ambassadors. Please contact the Volunteer Coordinator to further discuss.

Garden Teams at Matthaei (April – Oct.)

Learn new gardening techniques while you help maintain a variety of unique display & exhibit gardens at Matthaei. Activities include planting, weeding, mulching, pruning, and other seasonal garden maintenance.

Garden teams meet on a set weekday, 9am-12pm, and the weekday varies based on the garden. A spring kick-off and orientation is required for all new volunteers to our garden teams. We will however accept volunteers throughout the season on an as-needed basis. 

Garden spaces volunteers help maintain: Perennial Garden, Great Lakes Garden, Gateway Garden, Herb Knot Garden, Medicinal Garden, and Roving (throughout the property) Garden

Garden Teams at Nichols (April – Oct.)

Enjoy the beautiful natural setting of the Arb as you help maintain the horticultural collections featured at the Washington Heights entrance including the Peony Garden, Gateway Garden, Laurel Ridge, and heirloom climbing roses. Most of the volunteer work is focused in the Peony Garden.