Our Stories: Life Blooms On in a Pandemic

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By Amanda Campbell Bennett

Amanda Campbell Bennett, Vice President of Horticulture and Collections for the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Since graduating Morgan County High School in 1997 and The University of Georgia in 2001, life has been pretty normal.  Go to work, leave to pick up kids, go home, have supper with the family.  Maybe pick up supper or go out to eat occasionally.  Nothing crazy.  I’ve never had to quarantine for any reason.  Never had to wear a facemask for daily interactions.  Never had to work full time from home, be a full time stay at home mom, homeschool, order groceries to be delivered to my door, and search high and low for toilet paper because both my kids are below the age of 7 and we use toilet paper like a regular family of 4…but I digress… all at the same time.    All that changed on March 13 when schools closed and on March 14 when the Atlanta Botanical Gardens closed its doors.  That list became reality.

I’ve worked for The Atlanta Botanical Garden since 2002.  The world of plants is fascinating and beautiful (even after 18 years of doing it professionally).  Connecting people to plants is even more fascinating and beautiful.  When a public garden closes its doors—how do you keep connecting people to plants?  As the senior manager of the department responsible for the care of plants no one can now see– at the height of spring bloom and our annual orchid show– organizing the horticulture team, considered essential staff, to maximize safety while continuing to care for our plant collections was paramount.  Then we set about bringing the garden to you.

Some people may ask why we needed to continue to care for our plants.  Let me ask you a question.  Have you ever had a garden?  Even a small one?  Prepared the spot, picked out plants, planted it, and then not cared for it for an indeterminate amount of time?  Give weeds an inch and they take a mile.  Un-watered plants die.  Beyond that, our plants aren’t all run-of-the-mill and easily replaceable.  The Atlanta Botanical Garden has one of the largest species orchid collections in the country including two genera that are nationally accredited, have nationally recognized collections of magnolias, maples, and carnivorous plants, as well as collections introduced through our International Plant Exploration Program infused indoors and out.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg. No one would question care of animals at a zoo.  Why would anyone question the care and conservation of plants like these?  

Recognizing that our ultimate goal was to reopen and look as beautiful as ever, our intrepid horticulture team worked tirelessly throughout the closure.  But, we also recognized our beloved public was missing out on one of the most cheerful and anticipated times of year.  Colorful tulips and other bulbs didn’t know there was a virus.  Orchid Daze, our annual show, still had fountains flowing and parading orchids.  Irises, trillium, anemones, native azaleas—all oblivious to our closure.  Our marketing and social media team sprang into action.  Hundreds of pictures were taken by essential staff still on site and #lifebloomson was created to capture this moment in time.  For the next two months, our marketing, horticulture and education teams made videos and took pictures to post on all our social media outlets so we could continue to be a part of your lives.  Connecting people to plants.  Giving moments of beauty in the most uncertain times of recent history. 

Our horticulture team also reworked our entire operations in order to change out annual beds, weed, plant spring vegetables, weed, prune trees and shrubs, weed, reinstall orchids, weed, renovate chunks of the indoor and outdoor gardens, and weed, all amongst the quiet walkways.  Presenting gardens online is a fun, new challenge.  But the heartbeat of public horticulture are the guests.

Then, on May 18, we reopened our doors to members.  The outdoor gardens were once again alive with people, albeit masked and at a distance.  Subsequent openings have welcomed all guests back to our conservatories, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville and, children’s gardens.  This pandemic has highlighted to many people our deep need for the outdoors.  The world of plants is fascinating and beautiful.  Connecting people to plants, for me, is even more fascinating and beautiful. .

Amanda Campbell Bennett is a 1997 graduate of Morgan County, 2001 graduate of The University of Georgia, and is currently the vice president of Horticulture and Collections for the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  She currently resides in Newnan with her husband and two children.

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