Day 5: Making Spirits Bright

A different sort of Christmas tree

A different sort of Christmas tree

I have always done my best to avoid falling back on clichés in my writing. Thus, I found it difficult to describe my volunteer experience at Snowy Nights in the Memphis Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard on Friday evening. As the designated helper for the Giant Light Bright station, however, I really did see children’s faces light up. Their eyes were literally all aglow from the light diffusing through the colored water bottles they were happily arranging along segments of chain link fence. I think I even heard an occasional “ooh” and “ahh.”

I was already acquainted with the whimsy of My Big Backyard, but this was my first experience with Snowy Nights. For the month of December, the family-friendly garden space is strewn with Christmas lights and filled with a variety of hands-on, holiday-themed activities. While familiar Christmas carols play in the background, attendees can toast marshmallows over a fire pit, take a photo with the Snow Queen or the Gingerbread man, and slide around inside a giant snow globe.

Small man, big plan

Small man, big plan

The fact that parents brought their children out on such a cold, rainy night is a testament to the quality and popularity of this annual event. While I stood as close as possible to the propane heater set up at my station, families explored every corner of the garden. Several children who passed by were shy about approaching the Light Bright station until I gave them a demonstration. They then began designing with gusto.

One child spent a solid twenty minutes constructing a gorgeous diamond  design while narrating the entire process to his amused parents. “He has a plan,” his mother assured me. Later, a toddler who couldn’t even tell me her name arranged four bottles in the order of the color spectrum. “You may have a tiny physicist on your hands,” I told her mother. “Yup,” she replied. A few of the adults jumped in to help here and there, and occasionally a child needed help snapping a bottle firmly into place. Mostly we just stood back and watched the creations take shape.

Eventually the rain prevailed and the staff had to make the call to close early for the night. I am thankful for the two magical hours I did get to spend at Snowy Nights, though. When I look at the children’s museums and other similar interactive learning environments that have sprung up in Memphis since I was a child, I have to admit- I kind of want to be a kid again.

Memphis Botanic Garden has tons of volunteer opportunities, even for those who don’t necessarily have a green thumb. Visit for more information.

Playground Lane with a festive makeover

Playground Lane with a festive makeover

Lights everywhere!

Lights everywhere!

Childhood, Revisited

My lovely Snowomen

My lovely Snowomen

Team, I know this is absurd coming from someone in their twenties, but I really wish I was a kid again. Not so much to experience the growing pains and awkwardness but so I can go to places like the Memphis Botanic Garden and experience Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard for all its glory. Since I was blown away as an adult* I can only imagine how much fun I would have as a child!

Snowy Nights!

Snowy Nights!

*I don’t necessarily consider myself an adult though I understand that it is a title that society expects me to hold.





So, Snowy Nights! ‘Twas beautiful! ‘Twas rain free! ‘Twas not too cold! ‘Twas a great experience! It really was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday evening. Before heading over there, I was at my friend’s house. Pretty much everyone was on the couch. Coming back to that same friend’s house later, everyone was still on the couch. I, however, had played with real life Light Brights, hung out in a snow pit, drank hot cocoa, gave away pink snow and watched little kids run in joy to take a picture with Frosty the Snowman. I’ll let you decide who had the better time.

Part of the backyard all lit up!

Part of the backyard all lit up!

On a normal day, the Big Backyard is awesome in its own right. When it is all lit up and decorated for the holidays, photographs really can’t do it justice. I was there a little bit early and got to walk around and I WAS SQUEALING WITH DELIGHT. THIS IS AWESOME! THIS IS AWESOME! See, adult is not a correct term for me.


When I was finished with my self-guided tour it was time for all the volunteers to line up and hear more about Snowy Nights from volunteer coordinator Rosemary. There were about 25 of us volunteering and we were all assigned different posts. A few were sent to the cookie dough ornament making station. A few more were sent to the fire pit to help with s’mores. A few got to man the various costumes et cetera. I landed the lucky position of greeter!

Throne Chilling

Throne Chilling

Although I would’ve loved to be the Snow Queen, I really loved my time welcoming everyone, handing out pink snow, then getting to see people exit with their little ones tuckered out from all the great things they got to see and do. When talking to one child leaving she said her favorite part was “everything!” then, looking up at her mom exclaimed, “Mom! Can it be next year now so we can come again?!” I died. That was the cutest.

It truly was a magical time. Even though I won’t be having a white Christmas this year, I was proud that Memphis really brought the holiday spirit to life. The Botanic Garden was a great way to mediate the rest of this week. Although I have been in high spirits with all the volunteer work I’ve been doing this week, it was great to remember that there are super easy ways to bring a smile to a child’s face while having some fun yourself. There is certainly a balance that needs to be maintained. I’m slowly figuring out that I need to mix in joy to provide balance. Snowy Nights was a great way to tilt the joy factor a little higher.

Stay tuned for more updates from the 901.



Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way:
If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Week 10, Day 5: Rae-Anne Pitts at Memphis Botanic Gardens

I have been to the Memphis Botanic Gardens once before. I knew it was spacious, but I had no idea how enormous it really is. It is a 96-acre property containing 28 different distinctive gardens. I did not know that volunteers, primarily, maintain the gardens. There is a small staff for a big place. Volunteers are used in almost every aspect of the garden such as planting, maintaining gardens, and assisting with events. The botanic gardens could not operate without volunteers. There are twenty-three gardens on the property, the most impressive to me is, the rose garden because there are many varieties of roses there, but my favorite is the herb garden. There, they grow almost every herb imaginable and have information on the uses of all of them.


On Friday I volunteered at, “My Big Backyard.” My Big Backyard is the area of the botanic gardens specially designated for children. Here, children can play, splash, and discover. My Big Backyard has sixteen different areas; they are all designed with children in mind. During the summer, special events are held in My Big Backyard; they include: summer camps, “Firefly Glow Parties”, “Mud Pie Mondays”, and “Fun Fridays”

IMG_1564 IMG_1562

My volunteer experience had me help with “Fun Fridays.” Fun Fridays are held each Friday from May until July. Each Friday includes a different activity or craft that kids can participate in, and then take home. The cost of Fun Fridays is $3, which pays for all the materials needed to make the craft. Children of all ages can participate. On this Friday our activity was held at the House of Rock on Playhouse Lane. Each house on Playhouse Lane is unique, and designed by a different artist. Since we were at the House of Rock, our corresponding craft was a drum. The base of the drum used a lemonade container. Each child selected a string so that the drum could hang around their neck, then they customized their drums with duct tape, stickers, and markers. We encouraged the children to gather sticks from the area to use as drum sticks. The children enjoyed discovering how to make different sounds depending on which area of the drum they hit. The children had a great time; one group left the activity, drumming, as if they were in a parade.

IMG_1561 IMG_1560

I had a wonderful time at the gardens. I gained an appreciation for the dedication of the volunteers through learning how much they do; The Memphis Botanic Gardens is such an immense place and takes work to maintain. I have enough trouble keeping a potted plant alive in my apartment; I can’t imagine the amount of work it requires to keep the gardens looking stunning. While you are there it is so easy to forget that you are in the middle of a city.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in public policy, non-profit administration, or social science research. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: or

If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!
Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Week 6, Day 6: Brittany Tuggle at Memphis Botanic Gardens

I am not an outdoors person at all. Dirt, bugs, wild animals, poisonous plants those are the things I think of when someone mentions any outdoor activity. But, I put all my preconceived notions aside and embraced today’s volunteer work which led me to the Big Backyard at Memphis Botanic Gardens.

If you haven’t visited the Big Backyard, it’s a cool place for kids to explore and learn about nature in a safe environment. There are tree houses and areas that have different activities and games. Swings and hammocks are hidden in all the shaded areas of the garden.

While taking a tour with Dave, one of the employees, he told me that there are classes available in the summer for kids to teach them more about the plants and trees in the area. Memphis Botanic Garden also educates kids on sustainable resources and what they can do to help the environment. Even better, there is a strawberry patch located by the activity center that are free for the picking.

One of the most interesting places that I saw on my tour was the music house. All of the instruments in the house were made up of pots and pans. The sounds were different, but entertaining.

20130525_110142 20130525_103537

After I finished my tour, I worked in a few different parts of the Big Backyard,but I spent most of my time in the Woodland area building forts and helping out kids playing in the area find activities they could do by themselves or in a group. This proved to be my favorite area to work, as I got to watch as the kids who came through played tic-tac-toe, built mosaics out of seedlings and leaves, and walked a crooked balance beam made of wood that zigzagged all around the beautiful and tall trees.

20130525_111337 20130525_114224


I volunteered my services to McKayla and Caleb to help them build a fort, and they immediately put me to work. The finished product turned out pretty good.


I had a good time volunteering in the Big Backyard today. Putting my fears of dirt, bugs, and poisonous plants on hold for a day turned out to be a good decision. If you are looking for a place to have a nice family outing, birthday party, or weekend activity, I would recommend coming to the Big Backyard. The kids’ classes and workshops are available during the Spring and Summer.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my PR and Marketing knowledge at a nonprofit organization. I am also interested in development, event planning, and fundraising. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way:


If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!

Want the insider story and more pictures? Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Week 5, Day 3: Samantha Hicks at Memphis Botanic Garden

IMAG1415Day three of my adventure was at the Memphis Botanic Garden. It was a beautiful day and the perfect weather for outdoor activities. When I arrived at the garden, I noticed that there were several school buses there. I assumed the Botanic Garden must be a hip place IMAG1420for elementary school field trips. After checking in with the staff, I found out that they were having their annual World of Plants festival. During this festival, 2nd through 6th grade students travel through the gardens to several different “countries”. At each station they learn a little about how the plants from that country influence the culture there. Students work on crafts, taste food, and learn lots about each country. The festival lasts for two weeks and the Botanic Gardens expect that they will host approximately 9,000 students during this time!IMAG1417

I was assigned to help out Taylor at the Netherlands. Here, students learned about how the individuals from this country make wooden shoes from Tulip Poplar trees (which just so happens to be the TN state tree). Students colored mini wooden shoes and attached magnets to the backs so they could display them at home. I had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of students throughout the day. They all raved about how they loved the festival. One student even said to me, “this is the best field trip ever”! It took most groups approximately one and a half to two hours to visit every country, and at the end of the day they had a large bag of goodies to take home with them.

IMAG1419One employee explained to me that they are usually very busy during the spring season because of the festivals and school groups that come in for field trips. They welcome the IMAG1418help from anyone who wants to volunteer. They also have a harvest festival in the fall, which I hear is equally as fun! I had a wonderful time today working with both the awesome employees, and the students outside in the beautiful weather!


Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job opportunity where I can apply my social work skills and improve our community. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way.

Week 3, Day 3: Kevin Nowlin at Memphis Botanic Gardens

Polystichum achrostichoides. Say that 5 times as fast as you can. For the other 99% of us who have no clue how to decipher that conglomeration of letters, it simply means Christmas Fern. The Botanic Gardens (BG) is renowned for the rich and lush greenery that garnishes the land just off of Cherry Rd near Audobon Park. Being a big fan of gardening and all things botanical, naturally (pun intended), I was excited to give some of my time to a little “green thumbing.” My newfound partner in crime, John Cook, is with me again today. His experience at BG two weeks prior was so moving that he is now destined to become a farmer; or so he says. I kind of hope he does. We need more farmers. Maybe I’ll work as a hired hand on his farm someday.

We stroll into the gardening office, after somehow managing to guzzle 25oz of coffee in the short 3 miles from my house, ready to rock! We meet Manny, who has one of those larger-than-life personalities and after tidying up some of the morning’s details he gives us a tour of the grounds. Manny shows me an array of plants and flowers whose names I will never remember but whose beauty I won’t soon forget. When I reflect on my gardening experiences I mostly think of a tranquil and slow-paced setting (like the kind I do at home); however, after seeing all the work that has to be done at the BG in such a short window before springtime really hits is almost overwhelming. Luckily, it didn’t all have to be done that day. As Manny gets us settled into the workplace he tells us a little about his career in comedy, “the good ole days” as he refers to it and “short-lived.” Sadly, he wasn’t willing to give us any of the routine because there’s work to do and when it comes to gardening the right way, Manny is no joke. There is a precise manner in which we are to transplant the ferns and as he explains the necessity of the precision, it makes perfect sense. There is a natural and sensible order to transplanting, so I spend a little more time pruning than I probably should have out of fear of messing up a transplant. Then I remember that I came to play in some dirt and dirt don’t hurt.

The weather is perfectly warm under the greenhouse and the volunteers John and I are working with are full of lively conversation. We worked nearly an hour past our scheduled time because the work and the company were so pleasant. I have to remind myself that gardening days are not always like this and the crew at BG worked through a long, cold, and gray winter to arrive at a day like this. Either way, I would have enjoyed the work no matter what the weather was like. I suspect I will return to the Botanic Gardens. I need my botanical social life as much as I need the regular social life.


Everyday I be shuvelin!


Wisdom from an experienced gardener.


Classic Manny





Week 2, Day 3: Rivers Powers at Memphis Botanic Garden

I love living in the city, but at my heart, I’m a country girl and LOVE playing in the dirt.  Gardening is in my blood, so I was very happy to have drawn the Memphis Botanic Garden as one of my volunteer experiences.

I’ve been to the Botanic Garden before for events and the farmers’ market, but it was very cool to be able to go back and work in the greenhouses.  The orchid house is simply gorgeous with so many varieties of beautiful tropical flowers, and many other plants are grown in the other houses.  My first project was to transplant young plants from their seeding pots to larger containers.  These plants are being grown for sale at the upcoming Memphis Area Master Gardener’s Spring Fling.  Some of the plants I didn’t know at all, but I easily identified the herbs we were planting; it’s much easier to know what you’re looking at when you see it every day in your kitchen 🙂

My second task was to prune some of the other plants.  It’s a fun task, especially if you are a detail-oriented person and can get into a groove perfecting the way something looks.  I spent a lot of time on the Japanese lilies, and since lilies are one of my favorite flowers, I may have to go by the flower show and buy some of my handiwork!

Manny and his crew were fantastic to work with! I got to volunteer with several other people who happened to be biologists, so the conversation in the greenhouse was very interesting.  I appreciated the help Manny gave on the techniques for transplanting and pruning, which will come in handy with my own gardening efforts, and his willingness to let me come back any other time I want.  He did tell me, however, that I was one of only two female volunteers who ever gardened without gloves.  There is a reason people do that: dirt stains and dries out your hands, but I don’t care. I can’t wait to get back and get my hands all dirty again!


2013-03-13 10.06.04 2013-03-13 09.40.22 2013-03-13 12.12.56