You can be a docent at Botanical Gardens; training starts Sept. 10

docent leading tour at Buffalo Botanical Gardens
Donna Ludwig leads a tour at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Photo courtesy Bob Snyder/Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

by Connie Oswald Stofko

It was her love of plants that led Donna Ludwig of Hamburg to become a docent at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.

“It was just a place that called to me,” she said. “I have a chance to give back and there’s always something new to learn.”

Docent training classes will be held 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Thursdays Sept. 10 – Nov. 5, excluding holidays, at the Botanical Gardens.

Docents lead tours of the Botanical Gardens for a variety of groups year round, teach hands-on programs to school-aged children and scout groups, facilitate activities in the Wegman’s Family Garden, answer visitor questions during special events and assist education staff in programs that educate visitors about all the Botanical Gardens have to offer.

Sign up for docent classes here. You can also register at the door on the first day of classes.

For more information, go to the Botanical Gardens website or contact Kristy Blakely, director of Education, at 827-1584 ext. 291 or kblakely@buffalogardens.com.

You don’t have to be a horticultural expert to become a docent.

When giving a tour, “You just need to know about one or two plants in every house,” Ludwig said. Since these aren’t everyday plants that people have in their homes or gardens, the information that docents share will likely be new to the people you’re talking to.

If someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll check with someone for you,’” Ludwig said.

Docents aren’t thrown into a tour or lesson unprepared. After the training, new docents are encouraged to shadow other docents. Since everyone does a tour or lesson a little differently, it’s best to watch a few different docents, said Ludwig, who is also a docent mentor. Then you can take the material and make it your own.

Before you work with visitors, you can do a practice tour or practice lesson in front of staff or other docents. And if you want another docent to help you the first time you work with the public, that can be arranged, too.

“There’s a lot of help, a lot of guidance,” she said.

There are plenty of handouts to refer to. And you don’t have to have your entire talk memorized; you can carry notes with you on index cards.

“You don’t have to know it cold,” Ludwig said.

Being a docent can be fun, she said. The kids especially ask great questions. Ludwig told of one preschooler who wanted to know why they were growing trees inside the building when trees grow perfectly well outside. She explained that, just as the children had to wear their coats that day to protect them from the cold, those trees needed to be protected from the cold.

Another time she was showing the chocolate tree to a school group and explained that a gardener had to use a paint brush to play the role of pollinator, brushing the pollen from one flower onto another. Then she asked, “Who can name a pollinator?”

“The paint brush!” said one little boy.

While it wasn’t the answer she was looking for, “I couldn’t tell him he was wrong,” she said with a laugh.

Each docent gets to choose which activities they want to do, Ludwig said. Days and times that the docents work are flexible, too.

Yet another reason to become a docent is that there’s always something new to learn.

“Don’t be afraid,” Ludwig said. “If you want to learn and you’re willing to reach out, give it a try.”

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