Volunteer Appreciation Week: Garden Stewards Cultivate Their Community

Garden Stewards tend to Balboa Park's many green spaces

Balboa Park is home to a number of gardens, open green spaces, and plant-lined walkways. The Garden Stewards tend to these spaces across the park as they weed, deadhead, and put new plants in the ground. Through their collective efforts, the Garden Stewards cultivate thriving gardens as well as a sense of belonging and shared pride within their community and Balboa Park.

Cindy began volunteering as a Garden Steward nearly three years ago and has taken on a leadership role as a regular Shift Lead, instructing and assisting other volunteers as they work in gardens throughout Balboa Park. “There’s two parts I love about it,” she says, “being outside, digging in the dirt … there’s an immediate gratification that comes with that. I also love interacting with people as they walk through the park.” Garden Stewards often interact with park visitors, answering questions about the park and about what they do as volunteers. “You see people come and enjoy [the gardens] as they pass by, and they thank you for doing it, and it gives you happiness,” says Jay, who has regularly volunteered in the gardens for a year.

Cindy Robinson, Garden Steward

Jan Peterson, Garden Steward

For Jan, who has been volunteering since 2021, the people that she volunteers with keep her coming back. “I really like it that everyone is self-empowered; we don’t have to wait for instructions, and you are trusted to use your best judgment,” she says, reflecting on the volunteer leadership system that the Garden Stewards use. “The thing I like best are the people, definitely my co-stewards. It’s a really good group of people, and it makes me look forward to volunteering even when I think, ‘Oh, my back is going to hurt tomorrow.’” The connection that Jay feels with other volunteers and with nature through gardening makes him love it and want to continue. “Nature is healing, and sharing a common goal with this group gives me immense happiness.”

Garden Stewards often transform a space through their work; when they work together to get a large project done, the satisfaction and pride they take in their work is evident. “You can see the difference that we make,” says Cindy, emphasizing the collective impact of her fellow stewards’ efforts. “Everybody is into it,” says Jan. “It’s very egalitarian—nobody is pulling more weight than the other.”

Garden Stewards not only tend to the gardens by weeding, deadheading, and maintaining garden beds, they also participate in plantings. After planting rosemary bushes, Jay reflected on the long-lasting impact he made in the park, stating, “Those will stay there, and I’ll know that we did that. When we went to the Trees for Health Garden, I planted an oak tree, and I went back and looked at it and admired the tree that I had planted. I go there, and it makes me feel connected to what I did.”

Jay Ramani, Garden Steward

Volunteering as a Garden Steward has given Jan a sense of duty when it comes to the gardens. “We are passing it on to the next generation, and I feel a sense of responsibility. I think we all do. I’ll see a piece of trash and pick it up—I didn’t use to do that!” While the exact motivations between volunteers may vary, “we are all here because we love the gardens and we love Balboa Park, and we are putting in this work to show our appreciation for what we have here,” says Cindy. For her, volunteering is “one of the joys of my retirement, and I look forward to it every week.”

“Places like this belong to everybody,” says Jay, “It’s a beautiful thing to volunteer.”

In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 22nd to 27th), we will be highlighting our different volunteer groups. We rely on the support of generous donors to deploy 300+ volunteers to serve our visitors and improve the park’s gardens, trails, and trees. Give now to cultivate the important work our volunteers are doing.

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