Above: Volunteers are vital to the success of the programs and guest experience. Photo courtesy of Longwood Gardens.
More than 500 volunteers help keep Longwood abloom.
By Adriana Camacho-Church
When Kim and Kathy Snyder started dating, they would take long walks through Longwood Gardens. Fifty-three years later, the Newark couple volunteer there.
“We’ve brought our children and grandkids to Longwood over the years,” says Kathy. “It’s been my go-to place to inspire friends and family to connect with nature.
Located in Kennett Square, Pa., Longwood Gardens is a world-renown botanical garden of more than 1,000 acres of breathtaking gardens, fountain shows, meadows and woodlands, and horticultural displays combining beauty and art. It features a collection of more than 9,000 plants from around the globe. A record 1.6 million guests visited the Gardens between October 2021 and September 2022.
Founded by Pierre du Pont in 1906, Longwood offers yearlong activities such as concerts, performances, and educational programs to teach children, teens, and adults the wonders of nature and the importance of conservation and sustainability.
Volunteers are vital to the success of the programs and guest experience, says Lorrie Hamilton, director of volunteer engagement. Kim and Kathy Snyder are two of 520 volunteers who contributed nearly 50,000 hours of volunteer time in 2022. Volunteers help greet, guide, and educate visitors. They also help maintain the surrounding landscapes, displays, and the plants and trees inside the 102-year-old conservatory.
During the pandemic Kim and Kathy were instrumental in helping out, says Hamilton. Kathy offered to assist Longwood’s Garden Shop in 2021.
“We asked for support because the Garden Shop needed to prepare for the holiday season, so Kathy and other volunteers stepped up to help the shop get inventory ready for the season. Kim volunteered to help in the Conservatory and with the water lilies. This was a great help to our team since we were not onboarding any new volunteers at that time, and we needed additional support in the (Horticulture Department).”
Longwood’s volunteer program began in 1989. Currently, there are five volunteers who started before 1995, including Carol Majors, who has the longest tenure of Longwood’s volunteers. Majors started in 1991.
“There are a few reasons I continue volunteering at Longwood,” says Majors, a resident of West Chester, Pa. “One is that I really enjoy the ability to share my knowledge of birds with people who want to connect about them. The second reason is to continue learning about and supporting the diverse wildlife in the natural areas.”
Kim Snyder, a former teacher and insurance agent, says seven years ago, friends encouraged him to volunteer at Longwood, but he was a bit hesitant with his lack of horticulture knowledge.
“The Main Fountain Garden was my first volunteer project,” he says. “At the time, I was not very confident and didn’t really know what to expect. I spent my first day working with an experienced docent named Charlie, and he gave me such a concentrated lesson in how to interact with guests that I’ve felt confident ever since.”
At Longwood, volunteers attend workshops, sessions, tours, and get hands-on experience to expand their knowledge pertaining to their roles.
Snyder says his various roles have helped him learn quite a bit about Longwood’s history, its plants, and the mechanics of the fountains. “Being a docent is my most enjoyable role because I can interact with guests. My hope is that guests remember the information that I’m sharing with them and that it helps to shape their visit.”
When volunteering at the Waterlily Court, Snyder helps guests understand the interactions between plants and pollinators that result in the waterlilies. He says he also enjoys standing in 30 inches of water while grooming “the hardy waterlilies — deadheading and removing damaged leaves.”
Currently the Waterlily Court is not open due to the Longwood Reimagined Project, but the plants are still growing to have them ready for the opening of the new waterlily display in 2024.
To better display and grow its extensive plant collection, the Longwood Reimagined Project involves expanding and reconstructing 17 acres of the grounds to be finished and open to the public in the fall of 2024. Enhancements include an outdoor Bonsai Courtyard, a new restaurant and event space, and a new 32,000-square-foot conservatory, which is the centerpiece and largest component of the project.
Kathy Snyder says she is looking forward to the completion of the Longwood Reimagined Project. “It will provide more areas of interests to share with the guests.”
During her five years as a volunteer, Kathy has worked with children on educational projects, maintained the Children’s Garden, stuffed seed packets for Longwood’s Martin Luther King Day giveaway, priced items in the Garden Shop, and guided guests. Summer is her favorite time of year to volunteer, however, she finds such joy in learning new things and keeping physically and socially active that she volunteers year-round.
“My husband and I particularly enjoy volunteering on summer evenings together,” Kathy says. “He’ll be in the Main Fountain Garden and I’ll direct guests while listening to the music coming from a Fountain Show.”
Kim’s favorite spot at Longwood Gardens: “the Main Fountain Garden in late summer at sunset.”
— For more information, about Longwood Gardens and its volunteer programs visit LongwoodGardens.org