We couldn't Plant it Forward without our volunteers!
The docents at Our City Forest’s Community Nursery--Carol Arnoldy, Sharon Schuetze, Sarah Viaggi, and Judi Wilson--are volunteers who help customers during the nursery’s open hours, which are 9:00 am to 12:00 pm Thursday through Saturday. In addition to showing visitors the trees and shrubs they wish to plant, and discussing which species are best for their needs--an important task considering that the nursery covers two acres and has an inventory of some 10,000 trees and other plants--the docents assist with ongoing nursery work, namely pruning, propagation, weeding, watering, and updating inventory records.
As nursery manager Nara Baker puts it, “It’s cool to have people at OCF who have been there for so many years and know its programs and practices as well as the docents do. They are always willing to help, and are a great example for OCF’s younger members.”
Why the docents continue to volunteer year after year comes down to two shared desires: they are dedicated to OCF’s mission of greening San Jose, and they enjoy being at the nursery. As Carol says, “I love gardening, being outdoors, learning about how things grow, and being with like minded people.” What more could one want in a volunteer position?
Sarah, who formerly worked as a registered dietitian and is a sailing enthusiast, clearly is in her element. She calls her backyard at her South San Jose home “Big Basin” because it has a stand of six coastal redwoods, two apple trees, an apricot tree, a volunteer hackberry, volunteer pistache, Douglas fir, and wisteria. The most recent addition to her yard is a live oak.
She enjoys working with nursery customers: “I make customers think about what they want. The tree they choose is going to be with them for many years to come, so they better get it right.” She ticks off the attributes a prospective tree owner needs to consider, for starters, adaptability to the desired planting site, function, size when mature, messiness, deciduous vs. evergreen, and attractiveness. Sarah also loves working with the “young folks,” the AmeriCorps members who comprise the nursery team.
Sharon, who became a Tree Amigo five years ago, shares Sarah’s enjoyment of helping visitors. “I enjoy interacting with the nursery patrons and telling them about OCF programs.” She is a gardener, and her enjoyment of the nursery extends to caring for its trees and shrubs. Sharon quips that she likes “digging in dirt,” a pleasure not uncommon among OCF members, especially on the Lawn Busters team. She finds working outside therapeutic: “Being in nature and among trees calms one’s soul.” She is a regular hiker of Bay Area trails, especially in the spring when wild flowers are prevalent in the meadows.
Judi, who completed the Tree Amigo class in 1994 and has volunteered at OCF intermittently ever since, also loves being outside among trees. When I see Judi at the nursery she almost always has a pair of pruners in one hand and cuttings in the other.
Judi recalls the early days of OCF when volunteers were urged to bring their own shovels to planting and the nursery was situated at small, temporary sites in Japantown, Watson Park, and Kelly Park. She speaks fondly of participating in the planting of 30 Chinese Pistache trees in 1995 at Guadalupe Park to create the AIDS Memorial Grove. “Metal tags honoring AIDS victims were hung on the branches. Basketball players from Santa Clara University used their height to put the tags high in the trees.”
As one would expect, each of the women is a strong advocate of OCF’s mission. Carol, who began volunteering at OCF in 2001 is a Tree Amigo herself, and has lived in San Jose since it was called “the Garden City.” She sees OCF as restoring some of the city’s greenness that once was everywhere; the urban forest is “a way to combat the onslaught” of development in Silicon Valley. Judi notes that OCF’s beautification of San Jose is not limited to planting street trees; it extends to parks, businesses, churches, and schools among other venues. She cautions that beauty is only one benefit of urban trees. She points out that OCF educates the public on the many ways in which trees are important: they help clean the air and are a habitat for birds and animals; they provide shade and psychological balm; they increase real property values.
Sarah remembers walking in her neighborhood with her husband several years ago and noting the absence of trees. “This isn’t right;” she said at the time. “We live in a parking lot!” Sarah accordingly launched a successful community tree planting in her neighborhood in fall of 2015.
Sharon, too, has brought OCF to where she lives: Lawn Busters converted her front lawn last fall, and she “now enjoys a drought-tolerant landscape.” In addition, she has two OCF trees planted in her yard - ‘Autumn Fantasy’ red maples.
With their belief in taking action, it’s fair to characterize the docents as activists, although certainly not with the negative connotations the word sometimes carries, such as quarrelsome and doctrinaire. They are gracious, friendly women who volunteer because they know personal initiative makes a big difference.
They know, too, that, passiveness--not doing anything--is the friend of parking lots.
Now it's your turn!
Our City Forest is always looking for more Judi’s, Carol’s, Sharon’s, or Sarah’s - locals who care and can dedicate time each week to helping us grow and reach the community! If you’re interested in becoming a Tree Amigo, start volunteering with OCF. Sign up for a community planting, volunteer at the nursery, help a lawn conversion project, join tree care on a watering route, or help us with some office work. Learn more at ourcityforest.org/volunteer or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you’re interested in doing.