Kyra Kaiser always dreaded public speaking growing up. So you might not expect that she would end up as one of UW Botanic Gardens’ most enthusiastic tour guides at the Washington Park Arboretum, leading groups of visitors into the secret places of that 230 acre forested gem inside the City of Seattle.
Kaiser, a second year student at UW who intends to major in plant biology, leads free weekend walks at the Arboretum, a tour program with a broad focus that changes monthly according to the season and route taken.
As Kaiser was adjusting to her new environment as a freshman undergraduate, she realized that she needed to balance her academic studies with a connection outside of the classroom.
Kaiser soon found the perfect fit as a volunteer tour guide at the Arboretum.
“The best part of being a tour guide is that I am given the creative freedom to design my own tours: I plan the route, choose which plants I will talk about and then build my talk based on prior knowledge, and several hours of research,” she notes.
Kaiser says she always does a practice run to improve the flow and boost her confidence before the actual tour.
“I found that my aversion to public speaking did not matter when I was prepared and talking about something I was interested in and eager to share my knowledge of, namely plants,” Kaiser adds.
Kaiser says the main goal for her tour is “to encourage people to appreciate the natural world around them.” She tries to point out things that are beautiful but often subtle:
“… like water droplets that collect on the scalloped shaped leaves of a lady’s mantle, or the lovely perfume of witch hazels,” she says with delight.
“I try to engage people with questions,” she notes, “such as why would it be advantageous for lamb’s ear to have fuzzy leaves, considering that the plant is native to hot, dry regions.”
Kaiser also tries to make connections with other disciplines, for those people less focused on plants. She connects “botany with culture for history buffs, etymology for language lovers, design for artists and everyday uses” that can appeal to a wide range of people.
“Another important part of being a tour guide is knowing when not to talk,” she says, so Kaiser is conscious of giving tour-goers the chance to ask questions, reflect on their own and admire their surroundings.
“I strive to make a small connection with everyone on my tour,” she enthuses, “and hope that the time people spend at the Arboretum was as meaningful to them as it was to me.”