Louise A. Wrinkle 2016 Intern
S. Mason Webber (Mason)
I am excited to announce the selection of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ 2016 Native Plant Intern (full title is The Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Internship), which is generously supported for the third year by The Little Garden Club of Birmingham – in honor of Louise Wrinkle, an important figure in Birmingham’s world of horticulture.
This year’s intern is S. Mason Webber (Mason), an outstanding senior at Montevallo University studying biology with Professor Mike Harding; he has some solid hands-on experience with the study of our native flora. Mason is already exploring opportunities for a graduate degree in botany.
We had 11 applicants for the internship, representing six states, as well as one from Canada.
Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
2015 Louise Agee Wrinkle Intern Selected
I am excited to share the news that we have selected our second Louise Agee Wrinkle - Native Plant Intern! Her name is Jennifer Davidson and she's a recent graduate of the University of Alabama, where she earned her degree in Environmental Decision-Making. The focus of her studies were environmental policy and ecology.
Jennifer says: "In college I studied ecology and environmental policy, but my hobby was always gardening. As an environmentalist, I value all life on earth, but my passion is plants. Thanks to my plant biology class and others like it, I realized that plants were the most fascinating living things on the planet."
And: "When I ponder my dream job, only three things are clear: I want to work outdoors, I want to work with plants, and I need to contribute to the conservation of nature."
Jennifer has a rich background of work and volunteerism, including being a gardener at Huntsville Botanical Garden and spending time as a volunteer on a cocoa plantation in Ecuador.
Dr. John Clark, one of Jennifer's professors said, when speaking of her enrollment in his classes held in Costa Rica and Ecuador, that: "Jennifer acquired skills in plant identification and collections-based research on biodiversity. In particular, Jennifer was outstanding relative to her peers for recognizing plants to family because of her enthusiasm for learning plant morphology and family characters."
The first day of Jennifer's internship will be Monday, May 11; we have a very stimulating and meaningful summer planned for her. She, like our intern last year, has applied for a scholarship to attend the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference.
I look forward to introducing Jennifer to all of you!
Curator Kaul Wildflower Garden
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Plant Internship
During the summer of 2014 I served as the first Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Plant Intern at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, under the tutelage of Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator John Manion. Not only was I the first person to hold this position, but also the first Auburn University student to hold an internship position at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. My internship began Monday, May 12th and concluded twelve weeks later on Friday, August 1st. In the early days, I spent time familiarizing myself with The Gardens and meeting my coworkers. I was already familiar with the gardens from numerous visits in the past, so after introductions I was ready to begin work.
The majority of my day-to-day responsibilities consisted of care and upkeep of the Kaul Wildflower Garden. This entailed much planting of new plants, and the removal of one undesirable. Throughout the three-month internship, many plants would grow, flower and fade. Many species needed pruning or staking in order to keep the garden looking attractive, and to maintain the interest of visitors. Plants were added for other reasons as well, such as filling in bare spots left by the removal of weeds, or for erosion control on the garden’s many slopes and banks. Weeds represented a constant challenge in maintaining the integrity of the Kaul Wildflower Garden, and were an ever-present force threatening to take over if left unchecked. Some species, though native, were so opportunistic that their ongoing removal was necessary to prevent their spread, Plants such as Smilax spp. (green-briar) and Frangula caroliniana (Carolina buckthorn) were so pervasive that they needed constant monitoring. In addition to plants, there was a multitude of other wildlife forms present in the garden at any given time, including hawks, a tortoise, and (regrettably) a number of snakes. My great fear of all things serpentine was somewhat tempered by the proximity to them during my work this summer, as I knew they were around and just forced myself to put them out of mind and dive right into the denser portions of the garden.
Most Tuesdays and Thursdays I was assisted in this work by a dedicated group of volunteers, with whom it was a pleasure to meet and work throughout the summer. As John says, the Kaul Wildflower Garden would be impossible to maintain without their help. Of particular importance in my maintenance work was watering. During my internship I was placed in charge of monitoring the irrigation system throughout the Kaul Wildflower Garden, which required learning about its operation. Once I understood the system, I was able to adjust the angle and duration and spray pattern of irrigation heads, redirecting them away from paths and increasing the length of watering time to coincide with weather conditions. This was a particularly hot summer, and so vigilance in watering was a necessity (for the plants and for myself). I was also responsible for watering plants destined for the Kaul Wildflower Garden which were being grown in the greenhouse and lath house. This proved a more difficult task than one might imagine, as watering is a deceptively nuanced art.
The work wasn’t all physical. One area in which I was instructed throughout the summer was in plant identification and taxonomy, an area of knowledge which many horticulturists lack. John often emphasized the importance of developing these skills, and to that end I was frequently quizzed on scientific names of numerous species throughout the gardens and further afield. Through this repetition I was able to grasp the names and families of a number of our native species, but my skills paled in comparison to those of my two mentors on this topic, John Manion and Fred Spicer. In any case, I feel this new knowledge has given me an edge over most of my peers.
I was also tasked with keeping a list of to-do items for the gardens, which helped me develop organizational and time-management skills. Over the course of my internship I was able to improve my social skills; I’ve always found myself to be comfortable with public speaking, yet somewhat awkward and rigid in more personal interactions. I was made aware of this issue early on in the summer, and for the three months of my internship I made a conscious effort, whenever I carried on conversation, to be more relaxed and personable.
I was fortunate to be invited to participate in several field trips to various locations around the state, including Bibb County Glades, Ebenezer Swamp in Montevallo and Havana Glen in Hale County. It was good to be a part field work, which included identifying plants (some very rare), removal of invasive species and gathering materials for propagation, such as cuttings and seeds. I was involved with the conservation of a particularly rare species of fern native only to Alabama, Aspelenium tutwilerae, Tutwiler’s spleenwort. This fern was the subject of a presentation I delivered on a particularly notable trip I took during the summer to Cullowhee, North Carolina to attend the 2014 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. Before I began the internship, but after I had been offered it and had accepted, I was encouraged by John Manion to apply for a scholarship to attend the conference. It was a thrill and a privilege to have been selected as the only recipient from Alabama, and to be able to represent our state and The Gardens.
Another aspect of my internship was the writing of blog entries about topics of my choosing to summarize various aspects of my internship, and to develop my writing skills.
A significant project over the summer was the renovation and reorganization of the Kaul Wildflower Garden lath house. This renovation entailed moving every plant out of the lath house, replacing the gravel floor with a finer grade of stone, and then moving the plants back in and organizing them. This work entailed a lot of heavy lifting and hard work, with which I was assisted by my two fellow interns, Alex Dumont and Sanitra Lawrence. Teamwork has always come easily to me, but this was one of the rare instances I found myself in a leadership role, as much of the supervisorial aspects of this work defaulted to me. Some of the plants had lost their labels, so first had to be identified before they could be placed. My leadership, plant identification and goal-completion skills were all put to the test.
I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to the Little Garden Club of Birmingham, without whose generosity and forethought I would not have had this amazing opportunity. Special thanks to Mrs. Louise Wrinkle, whose grace, virtue and generosity are matched only by the veritable paradise that is her garden.
In closing, I will say my internship this summer was a wholly positive, valuable and gratifying experience. Each day offered something new, be it propagating with one of the many volunteer groups affiliated with The Gardens, mixing substrate for a class on carnivorous plants or supervising volunteers in the Kaul Wildflower Garden. Through all of this, I learned and developed a number of new skills which I’m sure will help me throughout my schooling and in my professional career. I met many people with whom I’ll want to remain in contact. More than anything, I had the opportunity to be an integral part of Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which I’ve known and loved since I was a child.