Volunteer Gardener

Insider Info

Playing in the dirt can do more good than you think. Volunteer gardeners donate their time to become a weed's worst enemy and a flower's best friend. Their work is valued by those who enjoy the beautiful scenery they create.

Volunteers in gardens are usually involved in hands-on work. They do various tasks, such as weeding, watering, pruning, planting and trimming. Volunteers usually have a lot of choice in their tasks. And most gardens have staff who are available to do heavy work.

Volunteers can choose how much time they would like to give. Some decide to help out as much as they can. Others may drop in once a year. Many gardens would not be able to function without the help of volunteers and would be overrun by weeds. Organizations value their volunteers and do all they can to accommodate different needs.

At the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, volunteers combined put in more than 10,000 hours per year. If the gardens were to pay for this help, it would cost them over $150,000, says Marlene Seida. She is the director of volunteers.

Many gardens offer leftover plants to their volunteers to take home. And volunteers have the pleasure of watching their work grow and bloom. Most gardens welcome visitors. And volunteers can see how their work makes people happy as visitors enjoy their tiptoe through the tulips.

Also, those with itching green thumbs who do not have a garden of their own can put their skills to work. There is no better base for budding botanists to begin their study of plants. Horticulturists are often on staff and volunteers can learn a lot from working with them.

Volunteering in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park two full days per week keeps Betty Lawther out of trouble. She has been a volunteer at the gardens for several years. "You get back probably 10 times what you put in to the volunteering," she says.

She enjoys being outside and watching the progress of the plants. "To me, the basic reward is just being able to do it," she says.

Lawther says the horticultural staff at the gardens tells volunteers to only do what they feel comfortable doing. There is always a different job that can be done.

"They keep really good track of the volunteers' fatigue and overheating," she says. She adds that staff also makes sure that volunteers are not taking on more than they can handle.

Lawther enjoys the camaraderie she feels with the other volunteers, and she enjoys visiting with guests in the garden. "There are people coming through after you've weeded a bed and commenting on how nice it looks and how well kept it is," she says. "That makes you want to go weed some more!"

She encourages young people to get involved "to find out that people who are their parents' age and their grandparents' age can be a lot of fun and can get out and do things."

Glenda Hall is a volunteer at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan. She says volunteering has showed her all the mistakes she has been making in her own gardens.

"I can't even measure the rewards. It's a free education, there are wonderful people here -- gardeners are giving people. It's very, very rewarding," Hall says.

Hall is able to work in the gardens despite her disability. She experiences chronic pain in her forearms and wears arm braces. She says staff works with volunteers to get around physical problems.

"If something is bothering me, I just let them know and I have something else to do," she says. "The rewards of giving because you want to give and just playing in the dirt is very calming to the mind -- very restful. It relieves a lot of stress."

Although Bruce McCoy is not much of a gardener himself, he is still an active volunteer in the gardens at a university.

He is the garden handyman. His tasks include making and maintaining a path through the garden and building a fish pond, a trellis and a website for the gardens.

"I just kind of picked up and did what was needed," he says. He likes being outside and taking pictures of flowers for the website.

"It's an ideal way to get involved because you can put in as many hours as you want or as few hours as you want," he says.

"It's gratifying work because you can get some pretty fast results with some of these plants. You can start working on an area that is quite bad, and in a few weeks you can start to see results."

How to Get Involved

Just find a garden near you and ask if they need volunteers. Some large gardens have formal training for their volunteers. But most just provide training and instruction as needed along the way.

Usually, the equipment is provided for volunteers. If you have some favorite tools, you may want to bring them. The only other things volunteers need are pants and shoes that they don't mind getting wet or dirty. Sometimes gardens require volunteers to wear a uniform, but that's rare and not very costly.

The physical aspect of gardening varies, depending on the activity. With so much work to be done in the gardens, there's something for pretty much everyone. However, most gardening does require a lot of bending and kneeling to reach around the plants in the dirt.

Gardening organizations can put you in touch with programs that need you.


National Gardening Association


Better Homes and Gardens
Find gardening information and guidance

Chicago Botanic Garden
Find out what gardening volunteers do at this center

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
The Frederik Meijer Gardens volunteers are treated like family!

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network
    ndcrn@nd.gov | (701) 328-9733