How To Bring Together a Community to Support a Botanical Garden

In our small community, Woodlake Botanical Gardens nearly became a town park.

Community meeting

Too much reliance on volunteer help, the finances of a small town, and the energy and amazing capacity of two people screeched to a halt at the end of June. Either the city had to take over the care of the gardens, or increase their spending to include paid help. The load was too much to bear alone. Too many disappointments when funds didn’t come through frazzled nerves and maybe a few tempers.

But the love of their gardens never wavered.

Agronomist for U.C. Davis and his wife, Manuel and Olga Jimenez, have given their time for the past 14 years. Modestly their donated time has been worth $2,310,000, or about $165,000 per year. That doesn’t include the donated plant materials and infrastructure.

Would the Community Step Up?

Today was the culmination of a month of planning.

So, Manuel and Olga invited Proteus and me to help them plan a meeting to see what kinds of support might be out there. We invited about 75 people from service organizations, educational and government services to attend a brainstorming session. Thirty-nine reserved, and fifty came.

Community meeting
David Hobgs, Monrovia, Proteus, Woodlake Pride and Delores Huerta Foundation all hobnob about the Gardens.

Fifty influencers in Tulare County gathered at Woodlake Presbyterian Church to brainstorm ways to raise $250,000 this year to support the Woodlake Botanical Gardens.

Wow! Even to put that much money on the screen scares me. Did you know that the San Francisco Botanical Gardens spend 5.5 billion dollars per year to maintain and grow the gardens?

Community meeting
Educators and Audubon society discuss the gardens.

That works out to $100,000 per acre. Woodlake has a unique 14 acre agricultural and rose and cacti garden valued at 500,000 in roses alone. If we maintained it to the same level as the SF garden, it would cost us 1,400,000 per year. That makes 250,000 seem paltry in comparison.

Our Agenda

  1. Our agenda included an opening walk around. Everyone wrote one or two things they love about the Gardens.
  2. Next, I gave a brief welcome, explained what in the world an educator/blogger was doing running a meeting about a botanical garden, and why we were there.
  3. We pre-selected four people to make presentations about the benefits of the gardens.  The first speaker, Chuck House, from Sequoia Hills Stables focused on the value and work of raising roses. Carmita Peña discussed the educational value to the 25 student volunteers a year who earned community service hours in high school working in the gardens. A Boy Scout organizer for 75 years, Bob Ludekens also still runs a nursery business that has donated hundreds of trees to the gardens. He explained why fruit from the store doesn’t taste sweet, and the fruit in the Botanical Gardens does. Finally, a former journalist and now website designer and documentarian, Shirley Kirkpatrick explained why the Woodlake Botanical Gardens are a treasure. A tourist attraction nestled in the foothills of the Sequoia National Park, the park draws much interest to their website about Tulare County.
  4. Finally, the meat of the meeting, table group brainstorming, and presentations. WOW. You can tell the engagement level of your participants in the process by simply listening to the buzz in the room. Each presentation was carefully thought out and well presented. Very few left the room even though we met during working hours.
  5. We held the meeting to right at one hour as promised, and offered them a chance to go home, but no one did until the last presentation finished. We closed with commitment cards about 10 minutes after the designated closing time.

    Community meeting
    I remind myself of my mom! 🙂

Follow-up

As a volunteer administrator, I am going to be looking for money. Several in the group volunteered to help with grant and proposal writing. It was clear that the gardens needed exposure. Some volunteered to help with marketing.

Even a little garden presents a huge amount of work. Plants don’t stop needing attention while you’re working out the details of who is going to do the work.

Community meetingWoodlake Botanical Gardens needs your help. Maybe you can donate funds. Someone suggested Fund me. So I’ll check into that. Maybe you love to weed roses. We need help with that now.

Community meeting
Manuel and Olga Jimenez, David Hobbs from Monrovia, Linda LaFleur from Kiwanis of Woodlake

Manuel is writing out a calendar of events so we can figure out how to get volunteers in the short-term to do the gardening work until we raise money to hire full-time employees. Even though we get employees, it will not negate the need for volunteer help. So if you can help, please let me know.

community meeting
a beautiful row of cabbage

I hope you don’t mind me writing about this on my blog. Right now, it’s where my mind and heart are. If I don’t write this, I won’t get much writing done.

Check into Always Write for my interviews coming up with author Sally Cronin, and social media guru, Chris Brogan. Today I am reposting a wonderful interview done by Norah Colvin with an author, Aleesah Darlinson. The topic of the interview caught my attention – the extinct Tasmanian tiger.

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