Hi Susi Bryer, welcome to our blog! We’re excited to have you with us. Congratulations on your recent appointment as Volunteer Coordinator for The Gardens at Lake Merritt, we’ve looked a long time to find someone as qualified as you are!
Can you tell us about your gardening experience and horticultural education?
I’ve always loved being in gardens, so after years in banking and administrative jobs, I decided to study Horticulture, and came out of that endeavor with two-year ATA degree in Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design.
We understand you have a lot of experience in garden volunteer work in Seattle, your former home. Could you tell us what all you did there, what experience you gained that you can apply here to help The Gardens at Lake Merritt?
I was an initial member of a Seattle stewardship program created for the Pacific Connections Collection at the Seattle Arboretum. A wonderful new botanical collection was created representing the countries that border the Pacific Ocean.
Plant Amnesty was another of my favorite organizations. The educational non-profit was founded with the purpose of “ending the senseless torture of trees and shrubs”. Caught up in spirit of a holiday party one year, I said sign me for a committee! I ended up on the entertainment committee during an exciting year of events. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of garden and horticultural “celebrities” working with both of these groups.
Could you tell us how you first got involved with our Gardens, and what drew you to volunteer here in the first place?
With our relocation to the East Bay Area, my husband and I were residing in an apartment in the Oakland City Center area while looking to buy a house. I needed to garden – this is what I’d been doing for a living in Seattle, that and tending our own large property (with not a stitch of lawn.) The Gardens at Lake Merritt were found, of course, by Googling gardens and volunteer opportunities. Upon my first visit to Lake Merritt and then to the gardens, I was just amazed by this wonderful amenity in the middle of Oakland. Who wouldn’t want to be involved!?
I know you’ve done a lot of plain old weeding at the garden and that now you are organizing volunteers to work on the tasks in the garden that call out for help. How have you proceeded and what are your future plans?
Well, weeding is what it’s all about no matter where you work or volunteer in a garden. Initially I worked in the propagation area at the Gardens, but hadn’t shared contact information, so was showing up to work at what turned out to be the wrong time.
There is a succulent garden by the gate to the “prop” area, and it was driving me nuts looking at how weedy it was, so I decided to just hang around and clean up that garden until someone showed up.
One day Park Supervisor Tora Rocha had time to stop and chat with me, and I brought up the idea of developing a consistent weekday volunteer group that would build on a sense of stewardship of the gardens.
Elaine Sedlack was retiring from her position of many years, managing Rhododendron Gardens at Lake Merritt as well as the Asian Gardens at Berkeley Botanical Gardens. Elaine was moving to Eugene Oregon, where she will be with family (and among huge rhododendrons.) I offered to step in and watch over the five Rhododendron garden beds, and suggested this area as a starter place to build on a consistent volunteer (stewardship) program.
So – then a month or two later I was asked to fulfill the position of overall Volunteer Coordinator for the Gardens. I’m working with the Friends of the Gardens at Lake Merritt (FGLM) to host volunteer recruitment and orientation events, and to respond to corporate, school, and other non-profit communities, to schedule and plan group projects at the gardens. I’ve had the pleasure of leading and working with employees of Method Products in the rhododendron gardens. Just recently I had a group of 25 from New Sector Alliance set up to plant a new succulent bed.
Are you starting to organize volunteers for the Autumn Lights Festival?
I am working closely with FGLM President Donald Cooper. Our next summer evening volunteer recruitment event is Tuesday August 18, 5:30-7:30. All areas of interest will be covered after a short tour of the garden. Autumn Lights will be here before we know it, in mid October!
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who wants to get involved at the Gardens at Lake Merritt?
There is something here for everyone, green thumb or not! If you have a skill, we can put it to use. In my experience, Volunteers are some of the best people to have the opportunity to work with, and to have in your life. I hope to meet you soon!
Thanks for chatting with us Susi, and good luck with the volunteer projects!