UC Berkeley News


 Nathan Smith helps volunteers propagate the "rare and cool stuff" at the UC Botanical Garden. (Wendy Edelstein photo)

It's My Job

02 April 2008

In this new semi-regular feature, the Berkeleyan showcases a staff member whose work is essential to the smooth functioning of the campus (or one of its many departments and units). Do you know someone whose job would interest our readers? Send an e-mail to berkeleyan@berkeley.edu with your suggestions.


Nathan Smith
Volunteer Propagation Program Coordinator, UC Botanical Garden

What does your job entail?
I coordinate the efforts of 75 garden volunteers in propagating plants from our living collection for sale to the public.

What's your background?
I went to UC Santa Barbara, where I majored in environmental studies. I was the horticulturist for the [UC] Botanical Garden's California area for six years prior to taking this position last year.

That seems like a big change.
It's a bit of a switch. Previously I was focused on cultivating plants. Now I cultivate people.

What are your new job's challenges?
People. The plants you can always cut back.

Have you tried that?
There are people here I would love to clone. I haven't tried taking cuttings of my favorite propagators. I'd love to do that.

What's the demographic makeup of your volunteers?
Many of them are either former Cal employees or spouses of Cal employees or professors. Since the shifts are on weekdays, many of our volunteers are retired.

We get some young folk either in college or just post-college who are in-between. They'll put in some time, but they tend not to be the long-term, stalwart leadership corps.

What's required of the garden's volunteers?
At minimum, they're expected to work three hours a week. The dedication and skill of some of our volunteers is tremendous. We have a couple of crew leaders who are here three days a week, between three to five hours a day.

What do crew leaders do?
They're responsible for meeting propagation goals, and keeping the plants correctly sorted and labeled for the annual [spring and fall] plant sales.

How do you teach volunteers about propagation?
I will often take volunteer groups out with me, and show them which plants to select, and how to make it look like they didn't butcher the plant when they took the cuttings. Also, I try to give them the background they need to cultivate the plant once the cuttings have struck.

What's your version of a great day on the job?
I go out on the plant deck and my favorite volunteer is bringing out super-killer plants that they've propagated from our beautiful living collection, and some visitor walking up the deck says, "That's so beautiful. I want to buy it and grow it and learn about it and care about plants."

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