Don’t be a bad botanical gardens board member like me

A popular night lighting show is a big winter attraction at the Gardens.
A popular night lighting show is a big winter attraction at the Gardens.

At the end of this year, I will have completed my two allotted terms on the board of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. I use the strictly technical meaning of the term “completed.” My name has appeared on the list of board of directors on the BECBG website, letterhead, and other official locations for six years. But here’s a situation where the cliché “in name only” really applies. Aside from attending a few galas and regularly visiting the gardens—which I would have done if I wasn’t on the board—I’m pretty sure I have been one of the least active board members the gardens has ever had. How did this happen?

The Botanical Gardens, a classic Lord & Burnham glasshouse set in an Olmsted park, is both a horticultural and architectural treasure. Ever since I discovered it—it is located a few miles south of the city—it’s been one of my favorite respites from cold weather as well as a perfect outdoor walk in spring, summer, and fall. Given my job and my involvements in various local garden-related events, it was inevitable that I would become involved in some way—so after serving as honorary co-chair of a fundraiser, I was invited to be on the board.

The main dome in summer.
The main dome in summer.

It’s not that I ever thought I’d have much to do with the plant collections or programming decisions. I realized that the board’s role is mainly governance, fundraising, and other tasks having to do with organizational stability. And in terms of those tasks, the board of a botanical gardens is not too different than other cultural boards. It could have been that the late afternoon meetings conflicted with busy times at my job, and that getting there and back could involve an hour’s worth of driving. But I really think that—even though I didn’t expect to be doing hands-on horticulture—there may have been too much meeting and talking for my tastes. Most of my work on other boards has been with smaller organizations, where board members have to bartend, set up silent auctions and work them, man admission tables, or otherwise be physically involved. Maybe I would have been better off as a volunteer, someone who comes in to tend the growing houses every week. (Though I’m not sure about that.)

Garden bloggers visited during the 2010 Buffalo Fling.
Garden bloggers visited during the 2010 Buffalo Fling.

One thing is clear—I have no one to blame but myself for my failure as a board member. It just demonstrates that a commitment may seem to be perfectly suited to your passions—and I actually love the old-fashioned bedding schemes and traditional tropical collections of the BECBG—but there may be many other reasons why it’s just not a good fit. I hope to continue to support the gardens through writing, visitations, donations, and membership.  And I’ll continue to be a board member of a local alternative arts organization where it seems I can do a lot more good.

Does loving gardens and gardening mean that you should become officially involved with garden-related institutions? Maybe; maybe not.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I am totally sympathetic, Elizabeth. Non-profits are vital. And strong boards, providing oversight and raising money, are essential. But the work is tedious and very time consuming.

  2. Agreed, Elizabeth. My problem is also that I tend to be generally allergic to meetings of most kinds – largely because so often they end up being one person bloviating and chewing up time that could be better spent. I function best as part of an organization when I operate behind the scenes and/or toil in obscurity.

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