At the Berkshire Botanical Garden, a season of transition, hope | Archives

STOCKBRIDGE – There’s an eerie silence these days at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

Plants and flowers blooming in their spring finery, amidst a recently gray and dull landscape, remain off-limits to the public.

The start of the BBG season, normally May 1, has been postponed to June 1, subject to change as social gathering restrictions remain in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

But amidst the silence, things are happening – including a changing of the guard, as Matthew Turnbull completes his first week as new director of horticulture while Dorthe Hviid prepares to retire after 28 years at tend to the 24-acre reserve.

“We are still hoping to be able to accommodate some visits for our outdoor spaces in June,” executive director Michael Beck said in a remote interview Friday with Hviid and Turnbull.

With the exception of building and grounds maintenance, all 12 full-time staff are working from home, with their jobs secure thanks to a loan the BBG board secured from the US protection scheme. of pay. “We’re skinny and mean anyway,” Beck said, “so we felt that all of the staff played a vital role right now that we couldn’t live without. Payroll is our biggest expense, so it is very useful at least the next two months.”

“We have needs that can’t wait, weeds to pull and things to cut,” he said. “These tasks are moving forward, so we will be ready to welcome visitors again when the time comes.”

He noted with regret that the site at the corner of Routes 183 and 102 “is beautiful right now; things are popping up all over the place. But for now, we have to ask people to be a little more patient.”

Beck acknowledged an impact on cash flow, as not only will the season be reduced, but attendance will be much lower, perhaps 40-50%, with fewer visitors to the Berkshires this summer from the country and from abroad.

Nonetheless, he said, “we are cautiously optimistic that something can be done with the rest of the season, as we play this by ear, week by week and month by month.” Several scheduled art exhibitions and the rest of the BBG’s museum and artistic activities have been postponed to summer 2021.

As Hviid pointed out, the annual Mother’s Day plant sale she hosts has been scaled down to a much smaller online event and in-person educational classes have been canceled, resulting in lost revenue. Nearly a dozen online classes are scheduled for May and June, possibly longer, and Beck hopes the harvest festival in early October can take place, as it is the BBG’s main annual attraction.

For Hviid, who arrived in 1992 at the much smaller Berkshire Garden Center, as it was then called, “there were ups and downs, with reductions after 9/11 and the Great Recession in 2008, It was a scary time, but the garden has moved forward in all sorts of ways, a concerted effort with excellent leadership from the board and trustees over many years and a very dedicated staff that has changed over time. “

Hviid, originally from Denmark and a resident of Lenox since taking on the key role at BBG, highlighted “the very strong support from the community in terms of volunteers and people who really care about the garden; that makes it a place really special. There’s something about the garden that grabs people and makes them want to get involved in it, and that’s a big part of what it’s grown for.”

She also cited major improvements in recent years, including the $2.3 million reconstruction of the historic 1770 Central House and a new master plan for the site that will soon be unveiled.

“So it feels like we’re moving even faster since we made major improvements with our first master plan after I arrived,” Hviid said. “Now we’re on the cusp of another major master plan, so I feel like it’s a good time to bow out. Part of me feels like it’s a time hard to leave, but another part of me feels, phew, that’s very hard work.”

Acknowledging that her departure at the end of May will be bittersweet, she noted that “it was really exciting to see that the trees that we planted in the mid-90s are now tall, it’s really wonderful”.

Hviid informed Beck of his intention to step down about 18 months ago.

During this time she works with Turnbull, detailing the many responsibilities of a director of horticulture – ensuring the garden is thriving, weeds are removed, visitors are happy and the landscape continues to thrive. develop. There’s also fundraising and volunteer coordination for special community events throughout the season, culminating with the Holiday Marketplace in early December, all aimed at connecting people to forge bonds with the garden.

Turnbull, 39, who has just arrived at his new home in Pittsfield with his wife and three daughters, admitted “it’s been a whirlwind first week”. He was assistant director of horticulture at Wave Hill, the 28-acre public gardens and cultural center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, NY, and director of greenhouses and gardens at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Hearing of BBG’s opening, he was drawn to the beauty of the Berkshires and was impressed with Beck and Matt Larkin, chairman of the board, and their plans for the future.

“This is where the past intersects with the future of horticulture in a wonderful way, respecting the garden as before and what it too was, while updating horticulture while keeping balance between the old and the new,” he said. “There is great energy in the space, the diversity of plants is eye-opening and the people have been great.”

The new, multi-million dollar site master plan is still awaiting formal board approval, slightly delayed by the pandemic but expected very soon, Beck said. It’s a collaboration with landscape architect Nelson Byrd Woltz based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and New York.

“We left no stone unturned, looking at the 24 acres that BBG now comprises and finding ways to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts,” he said, “to make the experience more cohesive, to tie it all together in a sensible and meaningful way, to add additional program space and ways for people to interact with the garden.”

A major fundraising campaign will be devised, involving “great effort”, Beck noted, “but the end goal will be really great and will put us in a great position.”

Given the challenges of the pandemic as people struggle and lose their jobs, he described an “understandable crisis mode, so we’re not going to pretend it’s not happening and ask for help for something that will last for several years.

But he expressed optimism based on the additional donations sent to the BBG by members and donors.

“With existing reserves and the Payroll Protection Loan in place, we’re in a decent position right now and I can sleep a little deeper,” Beck said.

Hviid, who plans to stay in Lenox with her husband, architect Mark Smith, said “she loves this area, and I’m sure I’ll connect and get involved in the garden. It’s a wonderful place, my life’s work, and I can’t see turning my back on that.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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