Remote Research: A Lonely Spring

Throughout the world, closures and lockdowns aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted many people’s lives and work. As a global institution, the Missouri Botanical Garden does research around the world, making travel restrictions a major hindrance. The “stay at home” order means staff has lost access to the Garden’s herbarium and labs, too.

But of course, they’ve adapted. Some are using the time to catch up on data analysis. Others are completing manuscripts, which communicate the findings of their work, and floras, a descriptive list of plants in a particular region. And in more remote locations, like protected sites in Madagascar, conservation efforts go on.

“None of us are running out of stuff we can do,” says Jim Miller , Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation.  “Everybody’s got a laptop, we’re all able to work.”

Spring is always a busy team of the year for the Missouri Botanical Garden. Beautiful blooms bring hordes of visitors out, as well as the start of the Garden’s signature events seasons. Horticulture staff are working to maintain the living collection, including the blooms on grounds and all the plants behind the scenes, and prepare for the summer.

This spring has looked a bit different. With the stay at home order, grounds are empty. A skeleton staff of seven horticulturists maintain the grounds, trying to do what they can of the work normally done by 60 staff members and 500 volunteers.

Derek Lyle, Senior Manager, Nursery, and his team are focused solely on the collections in the nursery, and attempting to carry on the summer seasonal display production and propagation for the living collection. 

“In a nutshell, the last week has been unusual, peaceful, and also exhausting,” Lyle says of the first week of the “stay at home” order. 

There has already been heartache. The need to stick to the bare necessities meant the team didn’t get to plant the spring display outdoors and the majority of seasonal spring crop produced ended up being composted. 

“Rest assured, the collections are in capable hands but we’re also disappointed that nobody gets the opportunity to enjoy all of the hard work for the spring show throughout the Garden.”

Trying to keep the Garden pristine while moving forward the Garden’s mission is also challenging with such a small crew and the lack of skilled hands has slowed progress in plant conservation. And, of course, the Garden just isn’t quite the same when it’s empty.

“Although I enjoy interacting with the plant material on a daily basis and focus on keeping the behind the scenes living collections alive, the staff and volunteers are missed. They are what makes this Garden the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Derek Lyle, Senior Manager, Nursery

Still, staff is carrying on with some optimism.

“With high hopes,” Lyle says, “we will be still able to plant our summer seasonal displays for visitors to enjoy when the Garden reopens.” 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of our lives, the Garden’s critical work conserving plant life goes on. These efforts would not be possible without your support. Consider helping us continue our mission in these uncertain times by becoming a member or making a donation.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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