Volunteer Spotlight: Kirsten Carlson

Kirsten & AlanBy Kirsten Carlson
Palm Shop Gift Shop Volunteer and FOC Board Member

I’ve been volunteering for different organizations since I was fourteen. It’s something I feel like I’ve always done ­ my parents were volunteers and they encouraged me. I’m glad, because as a volunteer, I’ve met some really neat people and learned some really cool stuff.

My Friends of the Conservatory volunteer story technically starts in April 2013, when I worked my first shift in the Palm House Gift Shop. But really, it started the moment I stepped into the Conservatory in August 2012, just after moving to Seattle.

I always love going to conservatories wherever I travel. The greenery is comforting, uplifting, and always interesting. And the buildings are fascinating. So after visiting the Conservatory here in Seattle, it quickly became one of my three “must­sees” whenever we had visitors from out-­of­town (Discovery Park and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are the other two). And we had a ton of visitors for the first little while we were here.

­ I’m told that this happens when you move to the west coast from out east. Every time I came in, I thought “this would be a cool place to volunteer” but it took me about eight months before I really got serious about it and took an application home and then shortly afterwards I was greeting visitors in the Gift Shop.

At first, I could barely remember the name of the “red­-flowered plant”, and “where’s the restroom?” was the only question I could confidently answer. People would ask me how to care for such­-and­-such a plant and I would always have to ask a gardener or the Gift Shop manager or look it up or admit “I’m not sure”. Two years later, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I have some jade plants (which I’ve re-potted twice and they have lived to tell the tale), about fifteen orchids that I haven’t killed, some lovely African violets (just like my mom always had growing up), a few air plants, and a Christmas cactus which is just about ready to bloom. I never had indoor plants before because I wasn’t sure what was toxic to cats but I learned about that by being in the shop.

I’ve learned from the books in the shop and the other volunteers. I’ve learned a lot from the visitors to the shop. So many of them are such keen plant enthusiasts, I can’t help but get caught up in their passion. I’ve also learned about other places from the many visitors from all over the country and beyond. I’ve had the opportunity to practice my French and German. Being there every week brings me more understanding and the chance to see small changes. I appreciate how special it is to be there on the gloomiest days of the year.

Of course the gardeners are the most amazing people. It’s not just plants they know ALL about but there’s the knowledge of the climate and geography the plants come from, the insects and animals, history of the Conservatory and the city, and then of course their understanding of heating systems, building needs, and the history and uses of plants.They are educators and certainly artists. I’ve told them they are true Renaissance Men and Women.

I feel lucky to see the Conservatory on a regular basis. I love all the people and things I get to see every week. I’ve just recently learned more about the plants and the Conservatory history by doing the docent course. I am also learning about the Conservatory and the City of Seattle by being on the FOC board.

Meeting really neat people and learning really cool stuff. If you would like to tell your story about why you volunteer or why you like coming to the Volunteer Park Conservatory, please contact me at kirsten.carlson@focvp.org

Related: Share your Conservatory Stories

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