Volunteers and the Future of Public Gardens
Public gardens are priceless assets to South Florida. Some of the world’s most regarded and dynamic tropical and subtropical gardens can be found in our communities. Not only are they institutions where important scientific research is conducted, but they also are places where many ornamental and economically valuable plants are cultivated in the United States.
Our public gardens appeal to both locals and tourists alike. Many of us remember the fun of family outings to Mounts Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Parrot Jungle, a quintessential part of Old Florida now known as Pinecrest Gardens.
Today, gardens like the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, and the refreshed and beautifully improved Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, continue to generate interest. Pinecrest Gardens, where I work, first gained fame as a tourist attraction. Reinvigorated in its larger role as a public arts park and garden, it hosts marvelous concerts, live theater, festivals, and a knockout farmers market, all taking place in a historically and botanically significant lush garden setting.
Gardens have become much more accommodating to public interests. No longer content to function solely as quiet oases of beauty and tranquility, they now provide cultural opportunities for visitors. They also reach out to their local communities. Active in environmental educational programming, they offer inspiring places to engage children in hands-on experiences with nature.
Public gardens used to rely upon high numbers of professional gardeners to maintain and cultivate their plantings. Nowadays, operating costs have risen as public funding sources have dwindled.
I don’t know of any existing garden that can claim to be fully staffed to meet all of its horticultural needs. So, too, with the explosion in programming, education and facility use, most gardens are sorely beset to fulfill the increasing expectations of their visitors.
These days, gardens use volunteers to help with their many hands-on activities. Volunteering at a public garden can be personally and socially enriching. Whether by planting trees or pulling weeds, guiding schoolchildren on landscape tours, or assisting in teaching adult classes in sustainable vegetable gardening, volunteers enhance our sense of shared community.
Committing to volunteer in a public garden can be an important contribution to the special place in which we live. Great gardens reflect the good work and investment of many individuals. Their communities are fortunate to have them.
Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist at Pinecrest Gardens.