Allison and I had the pleasure of working with a trio of interns from the Active Learning Program (ALP) this fall semester. The ALP is a program for undergraduate students at UF that pairs them with UF faculty and staff or local organizations. The goals of the program are to provide undergrads opportunities to participate in research- and community-based projects that not only help advance those projects, but also facilitate the student’s development of academic and professional skills.
Wilmot Botanical Gardens (WBG) applied to the program and was given three interns this semester – Aster, Dev, and Hayden – to help plan the methodology and data collection for a research project in the gardens that we’ve been wanting to do for some time. And they did a great job. Many people visit the gardens every day, seeking fresh air, a lunch spot, exercise, and respite. We want to have a better understanding of how visitors are using these gardens; in other words, which areas they prefer, what activities they do, how long they stay, etc.
This will be a multi-semester project and this first semester involved setting up the base map and protocol for the data collection. Aster, Dev, and Hayden created a map of the gardens (numbering the 40+ benches and other features) that will be utilized to record information on how visitors are using the garden throughout the day. The interns also created a list and subsequent spreadsheet for what data will be collected on visitor use and how it will be recorded. They’ve also made suggestions on how often data should be collected in the garden as well as guidelines for how to collect the data for future interns and volunteers. They determined this by testing several methods over the semester.
They will be handing over this impressive portfolio of work to the next set of ALP interns that we will welcome in January. This second group will spend the semester collecting and recording the data on WBG usage. This will be a big job and one of their first responsibilities will be to recruit and training many data collection volunteers (let us know if you are interested!). The third semester ALP interns will analyze all the data collected.
We look forward to more fully understanding visitor usage of the gardens. We know lots of people use them, we know that they are happy to have access to them, and we know a lot of different activities are taking place. But having more accurate information will help us to advocate more effectively for funding to fulfill our mission: to preserve and enhance these historic gardens as a verdant space and living laboratory dedicated to improving the quality of life of its visitors through plant interactions, education and research.
Elizabeth “Leah” Diehl, RLA, HTM
Lecturer, Dept. of Environmental Horticulture, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Director of Therapeutic Horticulture, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine