“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization,” says Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden President and CEO Brian Trader. Volunteer Appreciation Week begins today and we are celebrating by telling the story of one long-time volunteer, Mariette Norbom.
Personally, I have seen time and time again what difference volunteers make at the Garden in the few months of interning here. More impressively, though, I have also seen how volunteering changes lives — theirs and others — through their experiences at the Garden. The Garden wouldn’t even exist without our volunteers, and the time and effort they dedicate to being here make us the garden we are. We are so grateful to our volunteers and are gladdened by the way they seem to truly enjoy the work they do. Forming friendships and loving the tasks they do are some of the benefits volunteers experience, all while making a tremendous impact on the Garden.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mariette Norbom, a volunteer since 2006, as she led me on a walk around the Garden. I met Norbom after she sent a heartwarming email about her time as a volunteer. After reading it, I knew I wanted to share her story for Volunteer Appreciation Week and I asked her to meet me. I learned so much about Norbom during our walk, and she inspired me during our talk.
Norbom is from Luxembourg and chuckled as she revealed that she never lost her Luxembourg accent even after traveling to Mauritania and the Philippines when she was in the Peace Corps, Guernsey Island when she was an au pair, and a whole host of other places, finally coming to the United States when she was 24.
We went to the Fountain Garden to get a picture first. To my amazement, she listed several other scenic places around the Garden off the top of her head that would be good for a backdrop. Norbom uses a cane to get around, so I did not want to encourage her on a walk throughout the entire Garden. But in the end, her eagerness won, and she happily led me along Cherry Tree Walk to a certain dogwood tree she had in mind.
On our way back, I learned so much about Norbom and how close of a relationship she has with the Garden. She pointed out specific flowers and gardens we passed by and told fun anecdotes about them from her time volunteering. It was incredible how many facts she knew about the Garden’s history just from her memory. She was also very popular among the volunteers out working in the Garden and received many greetings as we walked past. It felt like being with a celebrity!
I could tell how much love and admiration Norbom has for the Garden from talking with her. Her adoration comes through in her email too as she tells about when she first began volunteering. “I love nature and flowers. In 2006 I was lucky to become a volunteer at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden,” she said. “In the beginning, I helped outside in the garden putting flowers in the beds and weeding. Sometimes I assisted in the Rose Garden or the Children’s Garden with different tasks. It was so much fun working with the different volunteers, joking and learning to get to know them and know which plants to pull or to leave when weeding, and to deadhead the roses when they were finished blooming. Going home, all of us volunteers were sweaty and tired but very satisfied with our work.”
Norbom did not spend all her time volunteering in the various gardens, however, and shared her experience in other areas of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. “After some years I moved to the greenhouse,” she said. “We were a group of five or six people working every Wednesday from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. I learned to sow tiny vegetable seeds, repot plants, water them, weed and tend to their needs, and even get rid of unsavory insects and slimy pests! The pots had to be washed and soil had to be mixed and the plants needed fertilizer. I even learned to take care of the beautiful orchids. While working we exchanged news and again learned about each other’s lives and became friends.”
“Visiting on Sunday mornings it was quieter. I could hear the birds sing and maybe meet some photographers taking pictures of the beauty all around,” Norbom said.
Norbom also helped with exhibits and seasonal events throughout her years of volunteering. “Every year we had exhibits in the garden through the summers, and in the winter we had the Dominion GardenFest of Lights,” she said. “The children would jump with excitement and hurry their parents to enter the garden. The same happened when we had the butterfly exhibit. Their little shining faces stayed with me when I left for home. At the light festival, I often met visitors that came from near and far: Europe, Asia and other places. I could wear my crazy Christmas sweater or my red velvet suit.”
“I cannot express my gratitude enough to have been able to be a volunteer and member of the botanical garden over the years,” Norbom said. “I felt loved by my coordinator and the fellow volunteers felt like my family. I often received cards from my coordinator when I was sick. Now when I walk around the lake on a sunny weekday, using a walker that the garden offers so kindly, I’m so surprised that many of the volunteers working there know me and greet me. I almost feel famous. I was 76 when I came here and now almost 92 and this garden work kept me healthy and I acquired so many friends. I am so thankful to all of you.”
Norbom told me how much she loves kids, and she visited on a perfect day as there was an elementary school field trip taking place. She stood back and watched the kids playing around the Garden with such a bright look on her face. I was so happy to see the Garden still brings her joy and amusement even though she is not able to volunteer anymore.
Norbom gave me a huge photo album before she left with tons of pictures from her time volunteering throughout the years. It was so cool to look through and see all the memories she has collected and the friendships she has made here. She showed me the significance of being a volunteer at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and how important volunteer appreciation is. Volunteers truly bring the spirit to this Garden!