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USF Botanical Gardens volunteers help maintain the gardens' 16 acres on campus.

Two USF Botanical Gardens volunteers keep gardens growing

TAMPA, Fla. -- The University of South Florida Botanical Gardens is made up of 16 acres of natural beauty and maintains a living collection of more than 3,000 plants, animals and natural habitats. It’s a place to wed, to learn, and to relax and meditate. It’s a place to breathe.

The Gardens is a little haven that thrives by the hands of its creators: volunteers with a passion for the outdoors. Whether a USF student or a member of the community, volunteers created areas of the Gardens visitors currently enjoy, such as the Pollinator Garden and the Succulents Garden.

The Pollinator Garden, made up of plants that attract animals such as bees, birds and butterflies, was designed and installed by USF alumna Shea Keene, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and obtained medical prerequisites.

“With the help of some new volunteers, we have maintained and added to the Pollinator Garden, making it a permanent part of the Botanical Gardens,” Keene said.

Keene had learned to garden on her own the summer before she became a volunteer for the Gardens. During the spring semester of her junior year, she was searching for a volunteer opportunity outside her major and, with a friend, ended up at the Garden’s monthly volunteer orientation.

During Keene’s pursuit for a medical career, she had volunteered at the USF Rothman Center for Pediatric Neuropsychiatry in St. Petersburg and the James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa.

“Though my experiences in those settings were valuable, they helped me realize that I was not, and could not, be happy in a cloistered medical setting,” Keene said.

Keene found herself looking forward to volunteering at the Botanical Gardens each week and loved learning about plants in science courses such as Medical Botany, Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“Those classes gave me a taste of plant science that left me wanting to know more and more,” Keene said. “So, with only half a semester remaining, I made the decision to scrap my medical school applications, and instead I began looking up plant-related internships online.”

Keene landed an internship in a place some people can only dream of. The National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii has accepted her into their Horticultural Internship Program. Keene said this is an experience of a lifetime and will lead her to the knowledge needed to become a botanist or horticulturist. She leaves for Hawaii Aug. 9.

Keene isn’t the only one who prefers the outdoors. In the shaded sanctuary of the Garden’s conservatory, a room of hanging orchids, bamboo walls and a Koi pond, USF senior Alex Miller, majoring in environmental engineering, dishes his thoughts on volunteering at the Gardens.

The son of a landscaper, Miller grew up around plant work and volunteered at the botanical gardens in his hometown of Key West. Once he arrived at USF, he was given Federal Work-Study, but wasn’t too keen on the usual administrative positions that were offered.

“I rather be outside,” Miller said. “The Gardens is relaxing.”

Whereas Keene worked on specific areas of the garden, Miller is an all-around worker. Sixty percent of his duties involve mowing, weed whacking and trimming back trees that grow over pathways. The other 40 percent involves helping at festivals, watering and an occasional project like the Garden’s Irene Rubenstein Children’s Reading Room, which Miller helped build.

After graduation Miller hopes to land a job involving water purification or sustainable housing. He has no definite plans but holds a “wherever the wind takes me” mentality.

“I think there’s something rather magical about working with plants,” Keene said. “Planting a garden, tending to its needs, and watching it grow brings with it a tangible sense of satisfaction, and a knowledge that you have added a little bit more beauty to this world, that is unparalleled.”


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Botanical Gardens    
Author: Melissa Moreno