Volunteer Spotlight: Alison Goetzman

One of the volunteers at Churchill Gardens loves native plants (and orchids!)

Tell us about Churchill Gardens and how you got involved.

The plots are fairly large – about the size of two city yards. They feel manageable now that they’ve been transformed into a rain garden. A neighborhood collective worked with Capitol Region Watershed District to identify native plants that need less ongoing maintenance. Stormwater inputs create some water flow to the area.

I have been in the neighborhood since 2015 and have always loved the gardens. I first learned that residents could be involved when the head garden steward was moving out of the area and was looking to “pass the torch.” That became my invitation to get involved with Churchill Gardens last August. We have a new influx of potential stewards moving into the neighborhood, giving us new eyes and new hearts in the space. We also enjoy a solid foundation of plants. I feel very lucky at how well-established these gardens are.

I had already been volunteering to remove invasives from the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom, my favorite spot. Pulling garlic mustard out is very satisfying!

Are there big projects for the gardens on the horizon?

We put down twelve yards of mulch in October, which was a huge project!
This spring, we’ll plant a few hundred plants like Butterfly weed and Ohio Spiderwort. After the last five to six years, we know what has been successful in the space. Our goal is to keep the garden colorful throughout the season and provide ongoing nutrition for pollinators. A hydrant is nearby, so we can establish those starts with a good watering program.
I love strategically designing a space so nature can care for itself with gentle gardener guidance. I ask myself, “how can we make a beautiful space with minimal effort?”

What do you find most rewarding about your volunteer work with Parks?

We are adding to the neighborhood by maintaining and beautifying the space. These gardens are an area of quiet reflection.

People are drawn to gardens, even if they don’t grow their own plants at home. Spaces like this are an important neighborhood connector. For example, last year, we had our National Night Out event in the gardens. Despite the heat and humidity that night, the event was still enjoyable in the shade surrounded by flowers.

We’re all in the area and see the gardens daily, so we can really monitor how the gardens ebb and flow throughout the season. We have five stewards now. There’s always interest from new residents.

Are you an avid home gardener?

Yes! My gardening life started as a child with a Victory Garden inspired by books from the 1940s. Gardening and volunteering are a huge part of my life.

My home garden also has quite a bit going on. We basically turned the front yard into native gardens, and we have veggie gardens and boulevard gardens. If there’s a place to plant, I will plant there. Recently we’ve been adding trees like River Birch, Witch Hazel, and Ironwood (those have really fun seed heads).

As for plants, I have a newfound love of sedges. There are always lush white peonies and fragrant Blanc de Coubert roses. I also became an orchid grower – I have an orchidarium and am building another one right now. In the past year, I’ve become a pro bono orchid rehabber. Either I will diagnose and treat, repot and return to the owner with growing tips, or I’m gifted dying orchids which I’ll revive and keep. I’ve been very fortunate to create quite the collection this way, and it has helped me learn a lot about orchid health in a short timeframe.

Tell us about your favorite parks.

The Fern room at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory – nothing can beat it. I can spend an hour sitting there! Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom is a close second. It is a really natural space in the middle of the city accessed by two bus lines. That’s remarkable! I feel lucky to have moved to a neighborhood right by two favorite spots!

What would you say to someone who might be interested in volunteering?

Being a garden steward for parks is so rewarding. The space is available, and there is something to do in every neighborhood that feeds your spirit – from annuals to native plants to pulling invasives. This amazing park system makes these opportunities available everywhere across the city. Thanks to Tricia Wherle, the volunteer coordinator for Saint Paul Parks Natural Resources. I’ve been able to ask her so many questions! Her support has made me confident in what we can do in the gardens. And Shevek McKee, the District 10 Community Council executive director, has been great. Between the two of them, they can help us get it done.

Inspired? Volunteer in Saint Paul parks! From Wildlife Monitors to Park and Garden Stewards, there are ways to make a difference that connect you to nature. Learn more!