COVID-19 Anniversary: Safe Garden Gatherings in O.C.

Sherman Library and Gardens executive director Scott LaFleur shares lessons from the pandemic.
Photograph courtesy of Sherman Library and Gardens

What are you most proud of?
Our staff. When we closed in March, absolutely no one wanted to stay home. The way everyone pivoted to keep going and keep the plants alive was great. We took turns coming in a couple of days a week, and I think it helped people to come in and get a mental break.

We reinvented ourselves. We took the time to think about all of our events and how we could do them safely. The virtual garden tour was one of our most successful tours we’ve ever had. … I think people appreciated that we tried to do something and didn’t just cancel it. We put the garden party in August, and we figured out how to do that. We broke everyone into groups of 50 to spend an hour in the garden. For some people, especially our volunteers, that was the first time they’d gotten out of the house to do anything.

The same thing with our Eerie Evenings event. We learned from the garden party and found a way to do it safely. Then we parlayed that into our Nights of 1000 Lights event. We were outside, we did timed ticketing, we limited the admissions, we made people social distance. People were so thankful it was some little bit of holiday that they were able to do again.

Were there any surprises?
We’ve seen more young people coming to the gardens. I think they’re finding the simpler things to do. There’s an overload on screens. Just looking at plants and the scavenger hunts in the garden are the biggest things around. That’s been a lot of fun.

What will you keep doing in the post-COVID-19 era?
Timed ticketing for our events. We’ll definitely keep that going. We got lots of positive feedback as people said they were glad not to be bombarded with a large crowd. The other thing we’ll continue to do is the virtual part of the garden tour. We’re going to do only virtual in May this year. But after that, we’ll definitely do both (in-person and virtual).

Anything you’d do differently?
I wish we’d never closed those two months in the beginning. There were some botanic gardens that never closed. People needed to have a place to go and be safe. Being outside, being in the fresh air, being in the sunlight—it’s a health and wellness sort of thing. Another thing we learned was that no one wants to walk in a one-way direction. They just CANNOT do it!

What are you most looking forward to post-pandemic?
Get-togethers. Staff potlucks. Just socializing in the garden: to meet friends here, have a glass of wine, and walk around and socialize. I feel like our worlds have shrunk. I’m looking forward to making new friends and meeting new members.

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