Become a docent at Botanical Gardens; training starts in September

docents in training at Buffalo Botanical Gardens
Before becoming a docent, you’ll get training. Photo courtesy Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens

by Jana Eisenberg

Does this sound like you? You love gardening or plants, you enjoy learning, you like talking with the public and you want to be involved in a rewarding volunteer experience.

If so, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens wants you.

The Botanical Gardens is recruiting for its 2016 Docent Training Class, said Kristy Schmitt, the director of education at the renowned gardens-within-a-park.

The only prerequisites are interest, enthusiasm, commitment and availability.

With the training offered by the Botanical Gardens, docents become well informed about the collections and plants in the Botanical Gardens’ collection.

“A lot of people who become docents are surprised at how much they learn about plants—and about the gardens’ history and other cool facts,” Schmitt said. “They also have a lot fun. ”

Depending on your focus and interests, you can learn things such as teaching and public-speaking skills. At the same time, it’s social—through the program, new friendships are frequently made.

Some of the duties you might find yourself handling as a Botanical Gardens docent include leading tours, teaching hands-on programs and helping with educational events.

A new option is being offered this year. While all the sessions offer tour training, docents-to-be may select sessions with an emphasis on hands-on field trips—more structured classes of various ages—or on informal programs, which may also have hands-on elements, but are, as the name says, less formal.

The sessions begin on Sept. 8 or 10, requiring a six-week commitment of Thursdays (hands-on field trips) or Saturdays (informal programs); all sessions run from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. The training concludes on Oct. 18 with a graduation ceremony.

The participation cost is $25 to cover supplies and printing. The fee is accepted in advance or at the door on the first class day.

For more information contact Amanda Oldham, education assistant, at 827-1584, ext. 291 or

Sharon Reader, who has been a docent at the Botanical Gardens for 12 years, says the educational programs are among her favorites.

“Interacting with kids is a lot of fun, and also very rewarding—imparting knowledge,” Reader said. “You can see how excited they get about the plants, fruits and vegetables we’re telling them about.”

You may also enjoy answering visitor questions during special exhibits and assisting the Botanical Gardens’ staff in programs for visitors of all ages.

The Botanical Gardens could not do what they do without docents.

“The education department alone has 15,000 people come through every year,” Schmitt said. “Our many, many volunteers help us reach as many kids and adults as we possibly can. They are super important!”

Reader, who is retired, says that she enjoys volunteering. She sees it as a chance to give back  and to meet like-minded people.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” Reader said. “We’ve worked hard to refine the docent training and hope that it keeps getting better!”


Jana Eisenberg is a Buffalo-based editor and writer.





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