Volunteers are the heart and hands behind many public gardens and play an integral part in garden operations and engagement. First Year Fellow Tracy Qiu represented the Longwood Graduate Program at the 2015 American Public Gardens Association Volunteer Engagement Symposium, held in sunny Santa Barbara.
The Symposium kicked off with an opening reception at Ganna Walska Lotusland, and docent-led tours provided attendees with fascinating insight on the life and loves of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer and garden enthusiast. Her sense of style was visible all over the themed gardens in the form of lush tropical plantings, soda glass-lined gravel paths, oversized seashells surrounding a decadent pool, and many other details. “I’m an enemy of the average,” Ganna Walska is often quoted, and her vision of Lotusland certainly supports her words with its dramatic and whimsical designs.
Presentations began with a keynote address from noted environmentalist Sigrid Wright, followed by a risk management session – always an important topic when working with volunteer groups. The afternoon brought about an excellent exploration into diversity within volunteer workforces. Nayra Pacheco of Just Communities used a combination of guided exercises and free discussion to dialogue with the audience about the complex issues of race and privilege and how it relates to our volunteer workforces.
In the evening, shuttle buses whisked attendees to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where native plants, sustainable practices, and conservation highlight over 1,000 species of indigenous plants. A highlight of the event was an installation of yarn and fiber arts, surprising guests with bursts of color throughout the California landscape.
Leadership was the central theme of the final day, with sessions that discussed leadership roles within the volunteer workforce and the multiple roles that volunteer program leaders must fill on a daily basis. The Symposium closed with a tour and reception at the spectacular Casa Del Herrero, a fine example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
Tracy’s favorite memories of the Symposium include Lotusland’s charismatic cacti and succulent garden, the “mirrors and windows” exercise for diversity and representation, “extreme examples” in liability and risk management, and dinner at Mesa Verde with a fabulous group of garden and volunteer professionals.
Many thanks to the American Public Garden Association and planning committee for organizing the symposium, and to the staff and volunteers of Ganna Walska Lotusland and Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens for such a welcoming and invigorating experience! Fellows always look forward to opportunities to develop professional skills and to network, and the 2015 Volunteer Engagement Symposium surpassed expectations.