There is hardly an individual in this country and beyond who has not been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, by the time you read this message all of us will be emerging from what is undoubtedly the worst disaster we have experienced in our lifetime. We too have been affected in many ways at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens. Regrettably, we found it necessary to cancel all of our scheduled spring events, which normally is a very busy time for activities usually held in the gardens. A major victim was the fifth annual spring plant sale, which was especially disappointing because we rely heavily on the proceeds from this sale to generate a significant portion of our annual operating budget.
We also missed the opportunity to reconnect with our friends and supporters at the time of the sale. Preliminary plans call for us to hold our regular fall plant sale with an even greater emphasis on offering many new and interesting varieties of camellias.
We depend heavily on volunteers to maintain the gardens, especially during the academic year. Cancelling of classes and closure of the university abruptly reduced this essential workforce, including those enrolled in the federally-supported work study program. Hopefully, the fall semester will see a return of this vital workforce, including several master gardeners, at the gardens.
The camellia relocation project, now in its second year, has also been adversely affected by the current conditions. Our goal this year was to add another 100 camellias from the Gordy collection to the Wilmot Botanical Gardens and transplant another 235 to various locations on the UF campus. As of this writing, just 33 have been relocated to our gardens and another 83 to sites on the main campus. The drought and recent onset of warmer weather, coupled with the state-wide shelter-in-place order, make it highly unlikely that we will be able to resume the camellia relocation project until late fall.
On a more positive note, I am pleased to announce that our new business manager position that had been open since early February has been filled with the arrival of Ms. Shannon Fickess on April 1. Her transition from the University of Missouri to UF has been made more difficult by the current pandemic, yet has progressed rather well. This has been made possible in large part by the outstanding support we have experienced from the Division of Human Resources in the College of Medicine.
Finally, we have noted an uptick in the number of visitors to the gardens from outside the university family during this crisis. Many appear to have found a safe, alternate refuge during the shelter-in-place requirement in the state of Florida. This observation is also consistent with the increase in gardening activities that has been seen generally across the nation as much of the populace remains in self-quarantine. We hope many of you will avail yourselves of the opportunity to stroll through the gardens and see what is new. Remember that the gardens are open for visiting seven days a week, 24 hours each day!
C. Craig Tisher, M.D.
Director, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine