In one of the last pre-season moments of calm, the Bird, Tree & Garden Club hosted an appreciation lunch for dozens of Chautauqua Institution employees who work on landscaping, gardening and grounds maintenance, along with members of the Woods Crew tech team.
The employees, who have been hustling to get the grounds ready for the 2019 season, gathered Friday in Smith Wilkes Hall to enjoy a lunch catered by Hurlbut Church.
“This is their last day to get everything in the ground and we just know they’re working hard all spring,” said BTG president Angela James. “It’s important to us that we start the year by saying thank you.”
Mike Parks, a seasonal gardener who has worked at Chautauqua Institution for nine years, said he has been busy with getting the more than 100 gardens on the grounds ready.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work for Miller Cottage, a lot of work for the President’s House and every other garden on the grounds,” he said.
When Zach Haas, a year-round garden and landscape specialist, was asked how his time has been occupied leading up to the season, he replied, “What haven’t I been doing?”
Haas has worked at the Institution for 11 years, and said he enjoys the company of his colleagues.
Dewey Carlson, a landscape gardener who has worked from April until Thanksgiving for the past few years, said he likes working under the leadership of Betsy Burgeson, the Institution’s supervisor of gardens and landscapes.
“Betsy’s awesome to work for,” he said. “She cares about everybody that’s working for her and if you have an idea, she’s willing to listen to them.”
Ahead of the event, Jack Munella, director of facilities and grounds and capital projects manager, said in the summer his department swells from 30 year-round employees to a total of 80 during the height of the season.
“For the most part, our returning seasonal employees love it here because of the experience,” Munella said. “These people know how this place operates and what it takes to get it ready.”
BTG and the landscaping and gardens crew work together on various projects throughout the season.
For example, they have been working together on a restoration of the Arboretum at Chautauqua Institution for the past three years.
At the lunch, James announced that the garden has been accepted by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program, which classifies and categorizes information on arboretums throughout the world.
“Our space is now categorized or recognized as a Level I arboretum,” she said. “It has signage and it has a diversity of tree canopy, as well as shrubs and species.”
Garden and landscape crew members sometimes attend BTG lectures and programs.
The crew members are a wonderful resource for information about the gardens on the grounds, said Chris Flanders, a member of BTG’s board of directors.