If you’re like me and got into plants as an adult, you might find yourself wishing you had chosen a more botanically-inclined field of study when you had the chance. Don’t despair! There are plenty of free ways to gain plant experience, with the added bonus of helping others and the environment.
1. Community gardens
After leaving the art world, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that the only thing that made me happy was being in my garden every day. So I looked up my nearest community garden and reached out to the staff to volunteer. I learned the basics of composting and irrigation, and went home with lots of free seeds. Plus, this went directly on my resume and was my only plant related experience when I got hired at a nursery. Check if your local community garden has a set day or time that they regularly welcome volunteers.
Many commercial nurseries have a paid staff and do not take volunteers. But if you no where to look, there are nurseries run by a plant society, municipal agency, or not-for-profit foundation that rely on volunteer work to various degrees. Theodore Payne is a foundation devoted to California’s native plants, with a robust volunteer program. Hahamongna Nursery, part of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, grows plants for local restoration projects (contact them on Instagram for a fast response). In addition to existing for a good cause, these organizations use common cultivation practices that are essential learning for any aspiring plant person.
3. Nonprofit groups
There are also many volunteer groups that do not have a specified place of meeting, so you’ll need to contact them or subscribe to their newsletter to learn more. In Los Angeles, Friends of Griffith Park is one group that hosts cleanup and planting days as well as free educational webinars. Tree People is dedicated to expanding Los Angeles’s tree canopy to underserved areas. LA Compost collects food scraps at local farmers markets to turn into rich, organic soil. These are all groups I have learned about through social media, and I’m sure there are many more that I am missing if you dig some more!
4. Colleges and Universities
Many college campuses have a conservatory or botanical garden onsite with a volunteer program. UCLA’s Mildred E Mathias garden is one such example; although they most likely give priority to students it’s worth contacting them to inquire. You can also look into city colleges that have a horticulture program. At the very least you can throw your name into the ring and ask that they contact you at a future time if they are ever lacking students to help. Plants will keep growing and gardens can fall into disrepair if not maintained, so at the end of the day, a highly motivated helper is better than no one to help at all!
5. Botanical gardens
Botanical gardens are the most prestigious out of the places on this list, and therefore their volunteer process tends to be more rigorous. Many institutions will have a volunteer page that state if they are accepting volunteers, and what the requirements are. For example, the Huntington has a page on their site here where you can apply to become a volunteer. If approved, you then go through an interview before participating in an orientation and training. Some other botanical gardens in Los Angeles include the LA Arboretum and Descanso Gardens.
I hope this list helps you find some places to volunteer. Do you have any other suggestions? Leave a comment below!