Jun 21st, 2020

Front Entrance Picnics

Since Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden closed its gates to visitors in March of this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer Elaine Loomis has spent some of her days on the outside looking in. Once a week, she packs a picnic and eats her lunch at the Garden’s front entrance. From there, and from her regular walks around the perimeter, she can keep an eye on the place she loves so much. And, if she’s lucky, she might even get to wave to some of her friends on staff. Of course, the view is not the same as the view from inside the gate, but it gives her peace of mind to see the gardens and her friends from afar, and to keep track of what’s blooming.

“I park right at the front, I bring Jimmy John’s (Gourmet Sandwiches) and I sit at the gates looking like a zoo animal, but looking in instead of looking out. Closed, but not forgotten,” she says of the Garden she is so devoted to. “Some days I read. It’s been splendid! It’s quiet and there are so many birds. You can really hear the bird songs.”


Elaine is discovering a new side of the Garden. Although she has driven through the front gates at least four days a week to volunteer in four different departments for over nine years, she never noticed the silver and black historical marker out front. She is a bit surprised to discover the plaque dedicated to Grace Arents. After all, she’s dedicated over 3,500 hours in service to the Garden since 2011 and driven right by the 8-foot sign hundreds, if not thousands of times.


But picnicking out front is not all Elaine’s been up to. She’s a tutor (“I help people learn how to learn.”) And she gives gardening lessons to kids from Gilpin Court. (“I’m going to bring Q-tips so they can pollinate the flowers.”) And of course, she’s been gardening.


She can’t wait to be back at the Garden. “I’ll be here Wednesday running curbside pick-up for the plant sale from the Garden Shop.” Karen Clowers, the Manager of Volunteers, brought 3-4 of us in to help with that.”


She was just finishing up her shift when I ran into her to take these photos. If you are a regular at the Garden, you probably recognize Elaine. You may have even thought she was on staff. On Mondays she works in the greenhouse with Senior Horticulturist Laurel Mathew. She works with Dean Dietrich gardening in the Central Garden on Wednesdays and on Thursdays she works in Operations setting up chairs for events like Flowers After 5. Saturday afternoon she works in Admissions, greeting people as they enter the Garden. Off-campus, Elaine is an ambassador for the Garden at community events answering questions about Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.


Volunteer Elaine Loomis

Elaine Looms, taking a break after volunteering at curbside pick up for the Garden Shop.

“If you ever have anything you want me to do, just let me know,” she says, prompting a giggle from me. It seems a little absurd for her to say this, except I know she’s completely serious.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Do you ever go home?’ Yes, I go home to shower,” she says.

“I’ve never met anyone at the Garden I didn’t want to be best friends with. It’s heaven on Earth.”

We think you’re pretty special too, Elaine.

Volunteer Elaine Loomis and the Conservatory standing by the mountain mint.

Volunteer Elaine Loomis with mountain mint by the apiary on the backside of the Conservatory. “I practice listening at the front gate, and listening is a wonderful exercise for me,” she says.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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