May 26th, 2014

Message from the Executive Director: Fan Mail

by Shane Tippett, Executive Director, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden  

The Children's Garden Staff, left to right, Kristi Orcutt, Katelyn Coyle, Kelly Riley, Kristin Mullens, Heather Veneziano (sitting) Nicki,  and Dawn Lipscomb.

The Children’s Garden Staff, left to right, Kristi Orcutt, Katelyn Coyle, Kelly Riley, Kristin Mullen, Heather Veneziano (sitting), Nicki, and Dawn Lipscomb.


Thank You for Showing Us the Garden! Love, Meagan

Kelly Riley is the children’s education manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. A Richmond native, Kelly worked in a number of jobs after completing business school, including a position that allowed her to watch urban residents move into newly renovated housing and not understand or appreciate the plantings around the buildings. No reason they should, nobody had ever taught them differently. Kelly thought she would like to be the one to teach them. Inspired by a prospectus from the just-birthed Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Kelly headed off to J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and earned her degree in horticulture.

Dear Kelly, thank you for teaching us more about the rain forest. I liked the part when everyone was wearing a suit, especially when I was the poisonous snake. I found a snake hole in my front yard.  Zach T.

In 1992, after securing and completing a stint as one the first paid interns here, she was summoned back to join the three other horticulturists then on staff in a position newly created just for her. Over the years, her role migrated gradually away from hands-on horticulture to hands-on education and eventually to the hands-on running of the Children’s Garden and all its formal and informal programs.

a loofa gourd

A loofah gourd

Dear Kelly, thank you very much for teaching us that a loofah sponge comes from gourds. I also enjoyed the seeds you gave us to keep. Your friend, Goldie  

Kelly remembers the Garden receiving a grant in the 1990s to fund classes for urban elementary school students, and the day when the first busload of excited children arrived. “Where am I?” “Do you live here?” The expansion of the Children’s Garden in 2005, and the way in which Kelly and her remarkable staff brought the Garden alive was a pivotal moment in the Garden’s first 30 years.

Dear Ms. Kelly Riley, I loved the planting. Thank you for showing us the Garden. Love, Meagan

Zach, Goldie, and Meagan are all in their early twenties now, perhaps starting families in which young children can learn from their parents about the rain forest and loofah sponges. And if the children of Zach, Goldie, and Meagan want to come learn in a garden, Kelly and her team will be here.


Executive Director Shane Tippett's passion for plants was kindled in the early ‘90s by a Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden arborist who mentored him on the care of specimen trees. This passion underlies his firm conviction in the transformative power of gardens to re-shape and renew communities, families and individuals and this continues to direct his leadership.

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