Timing is everything. When San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden education director, Lindsey Morgan, sent out an email announcing a couple of new faces on the Garden’s three-person staff, the Central Coast Journal ended up checking in just in time for volunteer day, on a Tuesday morning.
While that may have meant that their new executive director, Chenda Lor, and development director, Amanda Strosnider, felt a little “dressed down” for a meeting with the press, we also ran into Botanical Garden founder Eve Vigil carting off a bundle of sage—which was uprooted in the recent storm—and got a good snapshot of the season.
While their press release touts the “Dream Team” of three staffers working at the Garden full time, Lor said she’s all too aware that the garden itself is the work of 100s of local residents with personal time commitments ranging from a few hours to three decades. Their official introduction describes Lor as, “a well-traveled steward of the planet who intends to share her love of nature by growing the Community’s connection to our beloved Botanical Garden.”
Lor notes her background in SLO County includes 18 years working on “in-fill” development projects and community endeavors through the San Luis Obispo Rotary Club while raising four kids and staying connected to the fields she got a double major in biology and geology. Lor describes the position at the Gardens as a dream job that doesn’t come up all that often and utilizes her skills more than working at an engineering firm.
She shares some background, albeit years apart, in the Seattle, Washington area with Strosnider, who comes aboard to help split off some of the duties that were formerly all folded into the executive position. After going to school to study business and sustainability practices, Strosnider said she ended up working in the Pacific Northwest but is happy to be home in California.
“It is interesting how you can run into people with similar experiences, a little like we’re gravitating towards the same things,” she noted, adding that the role created for each of them allows Lor to focus on big-picture items for the organization while Strosnider hopes she gets turned loose to engage with visitors as a “people person.”
Goals for the organization as a whole, Lor said, after the 2018 departure of operations director, Debra Hoover, include expanding and diversifying the Board of Directors. There’s been some concern over a small group of dedicated individuals aging in place while the Friends of SLO Botanical Garden nonprofit needs to plan for the future. A grassroots nonprofit which has 30 years of institutional history, the Friends of the SLO Botanical Garden leases federal land for the Garden property itself through the County of San Luis Obispo so they share facilities with El Chorro Regional Park. Their master plan approved in 1998 has designs on 150 acres of the property, with gardens and cafes for each of the globe’s Mediterranean Climate Zones. Some updates may need to be reviewed, Lor said, as drought conditions, traffic connections and county permitting for their original designs challenge feasibility.
“We share a water allotment with El Chorro,” she added, “so there is that. It may not look like it today after the rain but California still is in drought.”
In the meantime, Vigil noted, the Garden has always been a self-sustaining venture, through the work of the community and their financial contributions.
“Starting something here is my only claim to fame, everything since has been the work and sweat of others,” she said, getting some fresh air as a team of volunteers packed up for the day.
“Over the long term what we need most is sustainability to generate income for expansion.” Lor added that the other priorities on her radar are visibility of the organization, education, and botanical research. “The center here is always open for events and we’ve even had weddings out here,” she said. “It’s a garden for the community, I think they just don’t always know what’s here.”
To check schedules and event go online to www.slobg.org. or call 805-541-1400.
Camas Frank has been a San Luis Obispo County print journalist for over a decade. First drawn to the Central Coast for a stint at Cal Poly, he’s focused on community affairs, people and technology.