International Experience New Zealand Day 12: Into the wild

Dodging the early morning rain showers, we made our way to Tasman Glacier, which was a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Our intrepid driver, Colin, took us to our destination amid snowy mountains and fast moving rivers. The glacier is fairly large and feeds the Tasman Lake, which is a milky color due to the dissolved mineral content in the water.  After admiring the scenery and native flora, it was time to make our 5-hour journey to the east coast city of Christchurch.


The drive included snowy mountain views, bright blue lakes, golden meadows and dark green pine forests. Our half way-point was the Astro Café, located at the top of a large grassy hill adjacent to an observatory. The views were spectacular, and really showcased the diverse beauty of New Zealand.


IMG_2785We arrived at Christchurch Botanic Garden (CBG) at around 4 pm where we met John Clemens, the Curator of CBG. This Garden has been in existence for 100 years and, interestingly, 2014 will be its 150th anniversary. The age of CBG can clearly be seen by the impressive stature of the fine tree specimens currently thriving there. Unfortunately, several trees were destroyed by the recent earthquakes and by a severe storm last year, however, enough large specimens remain to continue the ambiance of the garden.

IMG_2515A project that sparked my interest was the implementation of a purely Gondwanan Garden that will showcase plants that are relics from a prehistoric era.  One example, the Wollemi pine, was only recently discovered in a canyon in Australia. John seemed to be very passionate about this project, but stipulated that other projects need to be completed first. The CBG has also had to revamp its nursery and office areas, leaving current staff without proper working space – a difficult situation for any organization. These building will be more ‘’earthquake safe’’ than previous structures on the property.IMG_2801

After our brief introduction to Christchurch, we looked forward to more exploration over the next few days.


Second Year = Board Positions

One exciting aspect of being a Longwood Graduate Fellow is that in the second year of the program we are appointed to sit as an observer on the Board of a local institution of horticulture.  I was appointed to the Tyler Arboretum and attended my first Board meeting last week.

Big Tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum) Small girl

One of Tyler’s Treasures   (Sequoiadendron giganteum)


A non-profit organization’s Board of Directors (or Board of Trustees in Tyler’s case) has numerous responsibilities. Its purpose can vary depending on the institution, but in most cases the purpose is to provide guidance and oversight.  The responsibilities can include maintaining momentum, approving finances, overseeing fundraising, working in committees and promoting the institution.

I have often wondered what the Board really does and how influential they are. I’ve wondered how the Board members can be effective. Sitting in on my first Board meeting at Tyler seemed like a good way to start my investigation.

The meeting took place near the end of the workday and lasted about an hour and a half.  There were snacks and refreshments since it was a scorcher of a summer day.  A variety of topics were covered, a few things were voted upon, some great news was shared, some questions asked, research assigned, events noted, updates given and then there was a motion to close the meeting.  Pretty standard fare as I understand it, but what I enjoyed the most was seeing the way the Board members interacted with me and with eachother.  As I watched them work through the various issues at hand I noticed a few common threads that seemed to define the individuals.  I noted the following items that seemed like the six ‘must-do’s’ being effective:

  1. You have to be realistic but you have to be fearless
  2. You have to be willing to ask questions when things don’t make sense and ready to celebrate the small victories when they do.
  3. You have to have genuine interest in the institution, yet be able to keep your perspective.
  4. You have to figure out how far a dollar will go without sacrificing your mission or the quality of your work.
  5. You have to be excited by the opportunity to look for and design alternative solutions and when you find them you have to be willing to accept them.
  6. You have to choose the right people and then trust them to do their job.

I look forward to my year observing Tyler’s Board of Trustees and plan to periodically check-in on the LGP blog with the new insights gained about the purpose of Boards and the methods that make them most effective.






Symposium 2013: One Month Away!


The Fern Floor at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Photography: Laurie Metzger

The Longwood Graduate Program’s Annual Symposium, Shifting Landscapes: Cultivating Connections with a Broader Community, is a little less than a month away!  If you are on the fence about attending, let me paint you a picture…

When you arrive at Longwood Gardens Visitor’s Center, you are greeted by the Graduate Students and Longwood’s friendly staff.  Beyond the glass doors, the garden steals your gaze, beckoning you into the crisp early spring morning. This is a special time in the garden.  The fresh air invigorates you.  Just as you begin admiring the spring bulbs, you catch a glimpse of the magnificent conservatory on the hill.

The scent of orchids intermingled with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee lead you to Longwood’s historic ballroom where your day of cultivating connections begins.  You’re surrounded by stunning beauty and thought provoking conversation.

This year’s Symposium boasts fresh perspectives and a delicious menu.  A Bistro style lunch will feature a variety of offerings from soups and salads to risotto cakes and vegetable dumplings.  Fine meats and savory vegetarian options will leave no guest unsatisfied.  Lunch will be held on the elegant Patio of Oranges with lots of opportunity for conversation.

This year’s Symposium will make use of advanced technology forums such as Twitter in addition to recognizable tools like chalk boards to help us creatively answer questions posed by our speakers. The multi-leveled discussion will spark imaginations and generate opportunities for growth in our public gardens.  Interacting with on-line viewers in addition to those in attendance, will allow for collaboration between States and Nations!


The Flower Walk at Longwood Gardens

The day will finish with optional behind-the-scenes tours of various aspects of Longwood Gardens in addition to an optional, limited seating session with speaker, Louise Chawla.  Finish your day at the Symposium by prolonging your exploration and experience Longwood Gardens: Beyond the Garden Gates.

Please join us on March 15th 2013 for The Longwood Graduate Program’s Annual Symposium.  Shifting Landscapes: Cultivating Connections with a Broader Community. To register, click here. See you there!


Notes from the past – a message from Jim Swasey

Sue and I are really looking forward to the 45th Longwood Graduate Program Reunion and reuniting with a large percentage of the 100+ Former Fellows (1978-1979)(1984-2005) that we loved. Yes, we loved each and everyone of them! We encourage as many as possible to attend so that we can have bragging rights to a larger percentage of Former Fellows reuniting that either Dick Lighty or Bob Lyons receives!! Does that sound like a little competition?

(Swasey with some of his former students at the APGA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, 1998)

It will be exciting to hear all about your professional and personal lives since leaving The Program. Although we do stay in contact with many of you, there are a some that have slipped through the cracks and are not a visible. June 25th is also the 45th anniversary of our marriage that was held in Durham, NH, the home of UNH where we met. So, we will be doubly celebrating! Looking forward to seeing all of you and getting some photos.

Jim & Sue Swasey

International Experience 2011 – a sneek peek

Photo courtesy of Dallas Stribley

The countdown is on. The first year fellows and Longwood staff members Matt Taylor and Pandora Young will be departing in January for…the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and India! Planning the trip has been a monumental task. When deciding to aim for India during our first dinner together this summer, none of us could have predicted what planning the trip would involve.

We have plumbed the depths of our contacts from prior jobs and internships and successfully connected with staff members at botanic gardens, research centers, and attractions throughout India, Oman and the U.A.E. We experienced particular difficulties in establishing connections, as Indian gardens are particular in that they follow strict parameters in terms of botanical information sharing. Partnering with other countries is rare.

The remains of an itinerary planning meeting, courtesy of Felicia Yu

We worked diligently to prioritize gardens and forge connections with each institution. At least a few times, each of us has waited until late at night to call staff at Indian gardens as they were just arriving to work. When we struggled to receive confirmation from institutions, we sent dozens of formal request letters and packets of LGP information via Fedex. James, our fearless leader, has spent countless hours with agents crafting an intricate travel plan. Our final product is complete with overnight trains, planning around kite festivals in New Delhi, meetings with officials at the U.A.E, sunrise at the Taj Mahal, and adventures into the Himalayas.

We will hit the ground running in Dubai, and make our weary way to the new Oman Botanic Garden. We will then travel to Abu Dhabi to meet with staff from Botanic Garden Conservation International, BGCI, at the Al Ain Wildlife Park.

Our first stop in India will be at Thiruvananthapuram, aka Trivandrum, to explore the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute. From there we will take planes, trains, and automobiles through Mysore, Bangalore, New Delhi, Agra, Chandigarh, and Shimla. Stay tuned.

Al Ain Wildife Park, courtesy of Arabian Travel

Shimla, India.  Located in the Northwest Himalayas and home to the Viceregal Lodge and gardens.. Photo courtesy of My Himachal. (We are hoping it doesn’t look like this in Shimla by the time we get there…)

Beautiful Brookside

(photos by Felicia Yu)

Our visit to Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland was a memorable one. Although we left the University of Delaware at the bright and cheery hour of 7 a.m., it was well worth it! Upon our arrival, we were greeted enthusiastically by the Director, Stephanie Oberle. Stephanie has spent many years at Brookside including time as a young girl growing up nearby, as a volunteer in high school, an undergraduate intern, AND as a graduate student in the Longwood Graduate Program! She oversees Brookside, an institution that functions within an organizational structure that is quite unlike its peers, which includes being part of a larger municipal government hierarchy.

This year and continuing over the next three years, Brookside’s theme will focus on edible plants. One of their challenges is finding appropriate plant material for displays. In general, vegetables and other edible plants are bred for high yield with little thought to aesthetics. Crop plants also incur more labor than ornamental plants, and some crops need to be harvested up to 3 times a week! Jim Deramus, a horticulturist at Brookside, has enthusiastically taken on these challenges. Besides handling all the maintenance and harvesting of the edible plants, he sends many crops to the local food bank to feed the homeless. Some of the plantings included okra, swiss chard, rice, and sorghum. The Fellows especially enjoyed the display of purple tomatillos, although one would argue this was because we were able to sample them; so tasty! However, Brookside also provided experiences beyond our palate.

We discovered that the butterfly house and show was more than a destination for kids or families, but for big kids too! (a.k.a. Longwood Graduate Fellows). This show is one of Brookside’s main revenue streams, attracting an average of 50,000 paid visitors a year.  It is remarkable that the butterfly exhibit utilizes half of the entire volunteer workforce in the Parks Department for the whole county. It’s extremely popular! With specimens from North American, African, and Asian continents, there truly are butterflies for everyone.

Visiting Brookside on August 12 was a unique experience in light of some recent extreme weather. Just days before our arrival, a ‘microblast’ rain storm hit Brookside, dumping so much rain that water ran 10’ above the sides of the large creek bed that runs along the gardens! The most visible damage was seen from the boardwalk that runs alongside the creek and, in total, they lost 12 large shade trees. Even though the damage may seem discouraging, Stephanie and the team are seeking out learning opportunities for guests, such as leaving an uprooted tree where it landed to illustrate root systems.

Ironically, after all the adverse weather, it should be noted that Brookside DOES have a rain garden! Stephanie mentioned that one of their main goals was to show the public you can have an aesthetically pleasing rain garden; it doesn’t have to look like ‘a weed patch’ to be fully functional. Although it is a demonstration garden, it also serves as a barrier between their conservatory and an area that tends to have flash runoff.

But at the end of the day, it was obvious amongst our group that the most valuable time at Brookside was in discussions with the team. It’s fitting that such a dynamic garden would have such a fantastic group of staff!