The Extraordinary Ordinary: Emily Griswold

[Originally published August 12, 2015]

Emily Griswold is in love with plants. "I really got going in high school. My relatives' beautiful gardens inspired me. I find the beauty and diversity of plants fascinating. It's always challenging to figure out how to grow them. They're living beings and have their own things going on."  

Davisites have reaped the benefits of Emily's biophilia and green thumb for many years now. Her work has enhanced our lifestyle, provided respite and refreshment for people from all walks, given UC Davis students opportunities to serve and get some "horticulture therapy," built community, and convened enthusiastic gardeners and environmentalists. And this is just the tip of the Extraordinary-Ordinary-berg! 

Emily is the Director of Horticulture for our very own world-renown UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. Simply put, she oversees the well-being of all the plants and the volunteers who care for them. 

In her "free" time, she oversees Central Park's gardens along 'B' Street between 3rd and 4th Streets here in Davis as a volunteer. "The conversation began in 2006," said Emily, "when the City of Davis didn't have the resources to keep the gardens up."

Scrabble paved the way for Emily's volunteering in the gardens. Yes, Scrabble. Her husband often plays Scrabble in Central Park and she needed something to do while he was occupied with Triple Word Scores. She noticed that the garden provided a great space for getting people interested in plants and horticulture. Emily said, "I would look over at the garden and think, 'It would be kind of nice to work on that garden. It would be cool if the Yolo County Master Gardeners had a demonstration space.'" (The Yolo County Master Gardeners share science-based information from the university on growing things.)

The way she has grown her team is as natural as the garden itself. Emily has a cadre of experienced gardeners who volunteer to nurture those who are new to gardening. She said that she has "a series of volunteer leaders who have adopted the roses and other parts of the garden and help coordinate other volunteers." 

The garden is part of a larger ecosystem. For example, the tomatoes and other goodies harvested in the vegetable garden section go to Davis Community Meals and other nonprofits. The City of Davis provides workers comp for volunteers, keeps the irrigation system working, prunes the trees, picks up the green waste, and provides woodchip mulch and decomposed granite for path repair. 

Emily stays current on everything "gardening" in Davis, such as the Davis Farm-to-School Connection that coordinates all school gardens, recycling programs, and organic farm visits for the students. Emily said, "I really like getting to know people when I'm working on a focused project. This project has made me a full-on townie. I am more engaged in local politics than I ever thought I would be." Emily also serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission. 

Emily Griswold, thank you for all you do. Thank you for cultivating such beauty and community here in Davis and beyond. Yours is a special kind of photosynthesis. Thank you for being so extraordinary!