AmeriCorps Environmental Programs Steward – Chloe’s Story of Service

Here, I am covering our raised beds with a layer of our standard mulch mix (9 parts mulch : 1 part compost). We had just sown seeds of rhizomatous species, including Pacific trillium (Trillium ovatum), western wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), and vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla). We sowed the seeds in December to stimulate a natural winter stratification.

My name is Chloe, and I am serving at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens through AmeriCorps and Washington Service Corps. Before I go into the duties of my specific position, I’d like to give a brief explanation of what it means to serve as an AmeriCorps member. AmeriCorps members often find themselves recruiting volunteers and promoting active community engagement to better serve their local neighborhood. I am no exception to this and have a focus on better serving our natural environment. As an AmeriCorps member, I strive to increase the accessible education to the local community and foster an inclusive environment for volunteers. The Washington Service Corps asks members to share a quarterly Story of Service highlighting an experience of working with volunteers that will be shared with our peers, prospective members, and the public to demonstrate how AmeriCorps’ missions are carried out. Please continue on to read my Autumn 2019 Story of Service!

 

 

 

Halfway through winterizing the hoophouse. We had stripped off the shade cloth that covers the hoophouse during sunny months and are about to replace it with the poly cover spread out in front to keep our plants (and volunteers) warmer during freezing temperatures.

At the UW Botanic Gardens, I find myself doing a large variety of tasks, from coordinating classes in the Adult Education program to managing the Native Plant Nursery run by the UW Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER-UW). As the nursery manager, I instruct quarterly interns (check out the Autumn Nursery Team), provide hands-on opportunities for weekly volunteers, and lead nursery operations (from small tasks of watering plants to huge twenty-foot tall tasks like winterizing the hoophouse). I also provide basic lessons on the importance of native plants in our local ecosystems, how our nursery plays a part in restoration ecology, and what environmental stewardship can look like for an individual. I see new volunteers every week, but a few consistently and eagerly attend to help with weekly duties of the nursery.

One of those volunteers is Jake, who first came to a nursery work party, unsure of how he could productively help and nervous to ask questions. Never having learned about plants before, Jake was confused as to why we were “scarring” seeds and was worried that he would hurt the seeds with our scarring methods. Jake helped me realize the tasks we were asking volunteers to perform to help our native plants seemed counter-intuitive. In the moment, I explained to Jake seed dormancy as an adaptation, seed patterns of native plants, and how we replicate the natural environment in the nursery for seeds. Seeing Jake immediately become more comfortable with the scarification tasks at hand, I understood that an explanation is necessary for all volunteers, which resulted in my writing a brief and general curriculum for nursery operations in which we include our volunteers.

Jake has come to every work party since then, and is better at asking questions to understand. I see him improving his native plant identification, and growing in confidence in helping new volunteers. Jake has shown support for the nursery beyond attending the work parties, and has found himself in our native plant community!

I enjoy teaching students about the importance of native plants in our local neighborhoods or forested areas. Attending one work party and learning about native plants could stick with an individual through their careers or hobbies; the more people that are environmentally aware, the higher effectiveness we have at preserving our local ecosystems. I am proud to be an advocate for native ecosystems, and I am appreciative to be an educator by providing skills for successful horticultural practices and by encouraging students to become comfortable in new fields.

I look forward to spending more time in and sharing new experiences from Adult Education for the upcoming quarter. A sneak peek into some of the projects that may be mentioned includes coordinating Native Plant 101 classes, organizing Ecological Restoration courses for the Continuing Education and Professional Development program, and working with volunteers who wish to monitor classes.

Follow the SER-UW Nursery on Instagram, and check out our website!

Autumn colors of our native species western bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis).
One project we worked on with volunteers was planting a third “beneficial insectory” bed. The purpose of this bed is to plant native species that provide ecosystem services, such as food, shelter, or pollen, to predatory insects and their larvae. The hope is that the presence of predatory insects will create a well-rounded ecosystem right in our hoophouse: the insects can prey on the pests in the nursery, while also pollinating native plants.
We toured the SER-UW restoration sites on the Seattle campus. Seeing where our plants ultimately go and the landscape architectural difference they make was awesome! We also loved seeing how our baby plants from the nursery have flourished in their new homes! This site is Heron Haven, aptly named for the heron habitat found in the canopy of trees.