Monday, October 18, 2010


Taken on the way to Sierra Vista

Ever talk to people who are non-gardeners and yet they love your landscape?  You start going into the details and their eyes glaze over?  This happens to me all the time because gardening is really exciting stuff....well not for everyone.  This is why I had to join the Botanical Gardens and meet other people who were passionate about gardening.  It has been a wonderful way to connect with people here and some are even more crazy about plants than I am.....I didn't think that was possible, but I don't think they get to play outside because of their work, live so far out that they are disconnected from everyone, or maybe they don't have a yard to play the only time they get to do this is at the gardens.  I have to say that, my gardening happens on a regular least everyday.    

The theme in this posting is the blue sky...something which Arizona has plenty of:)
The purpose of this blog today is to talk about interpretation as it is suggested in the title. One of the things that I'm learning about while becoming a docent is how to speak to people who care a lot, a little, or not at all about plants, wildlife, and gardens. I have to admit that it's not easy at all.  As a teacher, I have the skills to present and I'm great at it....but in languages:)  Not plants.  I found this class to be a real challenge as I went through the materials.  With Spanish, I know the ins and outs....the struggles, the laughs, the easy parts....I know the language inside out....and when I speak, I guide my kiddos wherever they need to be....that's how easy my job has was my passion and today, it's still there, but it's modified and much different than how I felt when I first started the job 15 years ago.  It has become about the kids or young adults that I teach either at the university or high school's about their reactions to it that I find thrilling now. Student teachers, who LOVE Spanish, get in front of the kids and expect the kids to love it as well....and I love it when they realize that not all students were created equal and not all students take Spanish as passionately as we teachers do.  In fact, it's kind of a letdown for the teacher-in-training.  Some kids just want the credit to get into college....they aren't interested in speaking the darn language.  Can you imagine that?:) Maybe it surprises you and maybe it doesn't.....for me, I don't care just is and it's never going to change....and knowing that baseline is where I begin my work with teenagers and adults.  With adults, they obviously are there because they want to speak for me, it's a lot more fun teaching those classes.  So what does this have to do with gardening?
As with everything in this life, nothing stays the same.  The same rules that apply to teaching Spanish will also apply to gardening except that my knowledge base is lacking!  There is so much to learn about in this sector of the world and I have only just scratched the surface.  People that come to visit the gardens or walk through my gardens have different interest levels.  And because gardening has become a stronger passion now, I tend to unload a lot of information on people who don't, quite frankly, care:)  I'm actually okay with that and it is for that reason that I have found my gardening geeks to have crazy conversations's just that now, instead of having an answer for everything or predicting what people will ask me, like in Spanish, I will now probably answer with, "Hmmm, I'm not sure....let me find out for you:)" And that scares me. On the table, we had to grab several items and explain them to our audience even if we didn't know what they were....I didn't like that at all because I like to research everything before it's presented in front of an audience.  So I grabbed the tequila bottle and explained how tequila comes from a blue agave out of the village of Tequila outside of Guadalajara.  I've been there, tasted it, and know about it....because it's all related to Spanish and the culture so I stuck with what was safe.

So here are some basic things that I learned about interpretation....well didn't learn as much as figure out how to understand it when speaking to people in our gardens.  Always always....get information from your group before you begin and find out what their interests are.  Never exclude children from your lecture.  Share personal stories.  Find a way to hook people into your presentation. If a "teachable moment" happens, take it.  For example, if a butterfly crosses your path and people are watching it float about it and some of the plants that attract butterflies into your garden.  There is an equation that breaks down a meaningful was the only strange thing that stood out:)
Kr=Knowledge of the resource(this part is important because if I have it, I'm extremely comfortable!!)
Knowledge is the foundation of everything we do as interpreters.
Ka=Knowledge of the audience(easy)
AT=Appropriate Technique(can be tricky for the socially awkward)
IO=Interpretive Opportunity(random and fun...leading to not all of the same presentations will have the same outcome or each presentation is different although it has the same content)

And if you're extremely interested, here are the 15 principles of interpretation from Freeman Tilden....

1.  To spark an interest, interpreters must relate the subject to the lives of the people in their audience.
2.  The purpose of interpretation goes beyond providing information to real deeper meaning and the truth.
3.  The interpretive presentation-as a work of art-should be designed as a story that informs, entertains, and enlightens.  Let me put it this way...without interpreters on my trips abroad, I would not have learned 1/2 the information that I know now.  A good interpreter adds spice and life to a garden, museum, historic places like Machu Picchu.
4. The purpose of the interpretive story is to inspire and to provoke people to broaden their horizons.
5. Interpretation should present a complete theme or thesis and address the whole approach.
6. Interpretation for children, teenagers, and senior-when these comprise uniform groups-should follow fundamental different approaches.
7.  Every place has a history...make the past come alive.
8.  Technology can reveal the world in exciting new ways.  However, be careful on how you use it.
9.  Interpreters must concern themselves with the quantity and quality with the selection and accuracy of the information presented.
10.  Interpreter must be familiar with basic communication techniques.
11. Interpretive writing, such as this blog, should address what readers would like to know....maybe not this posting:)
12.  The overall interpretive program must be capable of attracting support, financial, volunteer, political, and administrative.
13.  Interpretation should instill in people the ability and the desire to sense the beauty in their surroundings.
14.  Interpreters can promote optimal experiences through intentional and thoughtful program and facility design.
15.  Passion is essential.


  1. I find the concept of interpretation very interesting. I have never really been in teacher mode, expect whilst training people at my job (and training people to do a job is not really 'fun' for either party).

    As a student though, I loved anthropology. It was my passion at university. Some of my instructors were fabulous, and I loved going to their classes. Others bored me to tears and made me wonder why I ever chose to pursue a degree in the profession. Both types of professors were very passionate about the subjects they taught...but the styles of teaching were what really mattered. Some fired me up, and others made my eyes glaze over. I still will tell stories about my professors...some of them really made a mark in my learning journey.

    With learning about plants, I feel the same way. I blog about plants (well, in the posts that are about gardening) in the way I like to learn about them. With facts, humour, and a personal touch. The professors I loved the most all had these three qualities. But then again, that's me. Other people like pure facts. Other people like to learn with pictures. Can't please everyone :)

  2. Wow, Arizona does indeed have beautiful skies! Great photos! Enjoyed your lesson on instruction/interpretation. Unfortunately, I'm one of the "socially awkward," so I'm not sure how much I can take from this. However, I've learned a lot teaching 3rd through 5th graders over the years, and the principles you mention certainly make sense. Everyone is on a different level when it comes to interest, not just intellect. As for gardening, I'm hard-pressed to find anyone so passionate about the subject here in my small town, even at the garden club. ; ) That's why I blog. Gives me a vent for that obsession.

  3. Great post!
    This is my 30th year as a classroom teacher and I still find myself learning better techniques each day I step into that school. I think it's supposed to be that way; for the day I think there is nothing left to learn is probably the day I should quit. :-)
    I wish I could volunteer at a botanical garden. I bet that is super fun and invigorating. I have post on Mexico Garden Books that you might enjoy. Viva la Flora!
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston

  4. Hahaha, i don't like to read very long sentences in blogs, but i wonder why i read yours, except the 15 principles of interpretation. It is just interesting how some teachers think and feel about their students and themselves. I admit i dont like teaching except for some laboratory exercises we do in the laboratory, however i am now obliged to teach during seminars, because of work obligation. But still i dont like teaching. By the way we have many units of Spanish in high school and college, yet long years of non-use and we tend to forget. It is not in the curriculum anymore. But somehow i still understand when it is written, decipher the meaning of the paragraph. Now i am happy that we were obliged then to have it in school...your skies are bright, please visit my post today i have dramatic skies also.


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