By Derek Lirange

The United Way’s Day of Caring is an annual event that encourages corporate and school groups to take half a day out of their week to step away from the busyness of their day to day work and help with projects in their communities. They organize thousands of people across the country to participate. New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill’s Worcester Tree Initiative (WTI) has benefited from the help of volunteers on this day for many years and on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, we continued the tradition. 

Whenever you wake up to rain on the day of a big project, there is cause for concern. It’s not uncommon for even the sort of mild rain we got on Thursday to keep people at home so the day started with making some phone calls. After going around the horn a couple times we got the confirmation that we would still have volunteers that morning. It felt like a huge win when a bus from Anna Maria College rolled up with 13 college students and their professor who chose to wake up early and come work outside on this rainy morning.

The project for the day was making improvements at our large scale landscape project on West Boylston Street. We’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of help on this site this year. Earlier in the summer The United Way of Central Massachusetts’ Youth Summer Volunteer Program, WooServes, came out twice to help at this site. We also received help from the Bruce Wells Scholars Upward Bound Program. These young men and women got to learn from three departments at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill during a week of shadowing. One day they worked with the education department, learning about the educational programs offered at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill, from adult and youth classes and trips to the exhibits. They spent a long, hot day in the field learning about urban forestry and landscape maintenance with the WTI program. And then they spent two days working with the Horticulture Department helping to care for the many different kinds of gardens at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill. Most recently we received help from WPI students during Work on Worcester, which we told you about last week.

The amount of volunteers who help with all of the programs at New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill is staggering. As a staff member in the WTI program I have had the opportunity to lead hundreds of people over the years.  People reach out to us all the time looking for ways they can help with what we’re doing. And of course, whether there are two people or 20 we are happy to plug them into a project. And we’re not just grateful for the help, but also for the opportunity to teach our volunteers more about what we do. Every person that works with us walks away with a greater appreciation of the landscape around them and, we hope, a desire to take better care of it.

This week’s project was much the same as the Work on Worcester Day, cardboard was laid down as a weed blocker, wood chips laid on top of that, and of course there was plenty of weed  pulling. This time we also planted on site with a variety of perennials including goldenrod, lowbush blueberry, and phlox with the hope of creating ground cover that will keep weeds down. It’s always nice to add something to the site, there is a greater sense of permanence.

While we are still a long way off from having an established naturalized garden on site here we are excited at every step of progress that we make and grateful to everyone helping us to make those steps. The United Way and especially our team our students from Anna Maria have our gratitude for the work they put into this event on a rainy day. We hope they were enriched by the experience and will return to the site to watch as the transformation continues.

Derek Lirange is a community forester with New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill’s Worcester Tree Initiative.</