Volunteers help LA County Arboretum grow and flower

As part of KPCC's "Season's Givings" series, Molly Peterson visits with volunteers who help maintain the L.A. County Arboretum.

Molly Peterson: I'm Molly Peterson with Season's Givings.

Diane Flood: How are you?
Children: Good.
Flood: Welcome to... what is this place called?
Children: Arboretum.

Peterson: At the gate of Arcadia's Los Angeles County Arboretum, fourteen pairs of middle school eyes focus on Diane Flood. She knows no fear – she's a retired schoolteacher.

Flood: What is the Spanish word for tree?
Children: Arbol.
Flood: And this is an ar-bor-etum, so it's a place of trees.

Peterson: Flood's shown many a group around the grounds. She's one of the Arboretum's 300 regulars, says Bob Weber. He heads the Arboretum's Los Voluntarios.

Bob Weber: Or we shorten it to Los Vols. It was started by the wife of the very first superintendent of the arboretum – 1948 about. Originally it was old ladies. And then after a while men started to join, so they changed it to Los Voluntarios.

Peterson: The name's a nod to the site's origins as Rancho Santa Anita. Local officials opened the arboretum after World War II, but the buildings date to the 19th century, when Lucky Baldwin owned the land and ran horses nearby. Volunteer coordinator Nancy Carlton says that even former teachers get a full dose of schooling to learn about the place.

Nancy Carlton: The first thing we try to do is have them take our orientation. They actually take the tram tour as if they were a guest. And there's a slideshow, lots of background, lots of history.

Peterson: Tours aren't the only way to help at the arboretum.

Heather Brown: My name's Heather Brown, and I live in Altadena, California.

Peterson: Brown volunteers in the garden – where she can weed, water, keep watch against unwanted bugs, and tend flowering plants like orchids.

Brown: I wanted to learn more about the plants that I like so much, how to take care of them better. 'Cause I got my own at home and it doesn't always work out so well.

Peterson: Los Vols President Bob Weber says volunteers can pitch in a couple dozen other ways – including short-term, at the L.A. Garden Show each spring. His own reasons for joining were simple.

Weber: I was a teacher in Arcadia for 39 years and I loved to be outdoors and I liked to teach. It's a great place to be.

Peterson: But the Arboretum's delivered unexpected benefits too.

Weber: I saw a lady the other day and she's working up in the gardens, and she said, "Oh hi Bob, my daughter was in your class years ago." And I said, "When was that?" And she said "Well I dunno, but she's 57 now." (laughs) So yes, I do see parents and former students here, yes, it's fun.