Here is the next entry in our Summer Intern Chronicles series...
My name is Yixin (April) Wei, and I am originally from northwestern China. It’s been nearly a year since I came to the U.S. for graduate school in Philadelphia, where I’m enrolled as Master of Landscape Architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, I’m a summer horticulture intern at Heritage Museums and Gardens, participating in an abundance of gardening activities supervised by garden experts, as well as a learning program well-integrated within the internship. I applied with a goal of strengthening my knowledge in horticulture, and HMG has surpassed my expectations with its abundance of learning opportunities.
While getting hands-on experience planting, pruning, weeding, mulching and propagating, I’ve also gained substantial knowledge on plants’ growing needs. In our fascinating weekly plant walks I am learning about woody plants, and on field trips to other botanical gardens I’m seeing varied examples of well-designed gardens and public spaces, enhancing my education in landscape architecture with real-life experiences I couldn’t have received from designs on paper.
Coming from varied backgrounds, the employees, interns, and volunteers at HMG are all friendly and happy to share their knowledge and experience in a positive environment where I quickly felt like part of the team. Working in pairs in a rotating weekly schedule, allows us a chance to get to work with each senior gardener - providing deeper levels of understanding by learning from their different areas of expertise, and from their efforts to speak to each of our own backgrounds and areas of interest. For instance, when learning how to plant a tree, I also learned about balancing aesthetic, ecological, and economic value in the gardens.
As a landscape architecture student, during our physical work throughout the gardens, I am always observing what is happening in the spaces around me. Especially since our first year’s design projects focused on gardens and parks, this internship enables me to review, refresh, and expand what I learned about how public gardens and parks are designed, managed and used with real experiences.
For example, I remember when an important design concept, ‘people attaching to a place’ finally clicked for me at the new McGraw Garden of the Senses, while I got to see firsthand a public space shared by both locals and visiting tourists. Visitors reminiscing about changes they’ve known over the gardens’ lifetime, mingled with newcomers admiring the plants and excitedly identifying them by name. I was touched by how a design can link spaces to its diverse visitors, and the elements that a designer has to consider, especially when its users are widely diverse.
Witnessing the daily operations at HGM fills in gaps in my knowledge between design initiatives and their actual construction and use. It also allows me to think about what makes a public garden thrive. Organized programs, connecting with experts, and a community of devoted volunteers all contribute to a sustainable and welcoming public garden.
I’ve been amazed by the volunteer program at the Heritage. Witnessing volunteers sharing about their own gardens and lives, learning, and having fun while working in the gardens together makes my heart full. Working at a botanical garden with such a strong volunteer base gives me an example of positive public engagement. Having faith in the support of those who cherish nature and the environment enables me to keep thinking big and hoping for the best. I love working along the promenade, where passing visitors express their gratitude and cheer us on. This reminds me that working for public spaces, environmental protection, and conservation is indeed appreciated and supported generously by the public, and motivates me to continue to face the challenges entailed in my future studies and career.