Volunteers in the Spotlight

Lynne Irwin

Lynne Irwin is passionate when speaking of the Garden. Her face lights up and her hands move along energetically. “My outgoing, positive Australian enthusiasm can be hard for Canadians to handle,” she says with a wry smile. “I don’t have a problem walking up, talking to people, and sayingThis plant is interesting. Did you know this about it?’” 

The Adelaide native freely admits that she has no horticulture background. Rather, the first time she visited the Garden, she was living in a high-rise building and worked in management at a Crown corporation. But Lynne says she has always appreciated plants, especially trees. “They have a soul,” she says. It was love at first sight when she visited the park that first time and she remembers saying right then that she would volunteer there. 

Seventeen years later, Lynne has made good on her promise. She has served VBGA in many different areas, from processing memberships to serving as an Educational Assistant in the Adult Education program to arranging dried flowers. These days, Lynne primarily volunteers as a Walking Guide and as a Garden Host. She is also Education Coordinator of the Guide Leadership Team Executive. 

She sits on her favourite bench nestled in by huckleberry bushes and ferns among other greenery. This shaded spot overlooks a pond with bald cypress growing out of the water. She points out the knobby protrusions at the base of the trees. We speculate what function they may have for the plant. Even during an interview focused on her, Lynne cannot help but be a guide. Her curiosity reveals her to be just as much a learner as the person who may join her on a walk. She delights in observing and asking questions. 

“Where on earth would I find a place like this? It grounds me. It is my home, my soul, my inner peace. It is a huge part of what makes my life fulfilling.” She tells of times that she comes here on her own to read a book for hours or of the biweekly walks she schedules with a good friend, a former VBGA volunteer. Her chain of thoughts breaks when a female Mallard duck waddles out of the nearby foliage. “Hello sweetie,” she says, as the duck eyes her warily. Then, it continues past with two smaller ducks. “Probably her babies,” she adds. 

“I’ve seen what this garden does for people – especially in pain.” She tells of visitors she has met, who may be struggling personally and who come for some peace. “The Garden wraps them up. It says ‘be calm’; ‘be easy’; ‘all will be’. It gives energy.” As she pauses, a Black-capped chickadee can be heard calling and, on this hot July day, it really is a relief to be sitting with Lynne in her favourite spot.  

To connect people with plants means to educate, according to Lynne. “We are in a living library. It is not a park!” She points her finger in the air emphatically, “It is a botanical garden!” She values the ‘joys of volunteering’ and this is evident as she leads me back to the Visitors’ Centre. As we near the end of our chat, she cannot help but point out one more plant, the oakleaf hydrangea, marveling at its showy white bunches of flowers.  

Written by Vanessa Lundgren, Volunteer Writer