Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflections on being a new guide

by Lynnda
Last Spring, I spent 4 consecutive Tuesdays training to be a guide at the Seattle Japanese Garden. We were given a notebook filled with all varieties of information. In addition, we had many very enthusiastic and knowledgeable speakers each week. We then toured the Garden with experienced gardeners and guides. How would any of us be able to condense this vast amount of information to a 45 minute guided tour???

SJG - Koi  -  Photo by Lynnda
I was quite nervous before my first tour. My Japanese pronuciations leave much to be desired. How do other guides remember all the correct words? Who could remember all the names of the plants? What if I got some of the information mixed up and told untruths? I was filled with self-doubt and was feeling quite unprepared.

SJG-Blooming Osmathus  -  Photo by Lynnda
My first tour consisted of two couples from far away and they had never been to this garden nor to any Japanese garden. They asked questions I could answer and the garden was gorgeous. The winter hazel (corylopsis) and osmanthus were in bloom and their fragrances filled the air. I did several tours in May and June and was always thrilled to see the progression of blooms. Every week a different plant was more vibrant than all the others.

Two tours gave me practice in handling the unexpected. Humor helped. On was a tour of six; two young women, two older men who often left the tour and returned every few minutes (wanderers), and 2 other women, one with a walker. When we reached the north-west end of the pond, I explained that we were going to reverse our walk and would see new things and hear stories not yet told. One of the men asked why we had to do that and I explained that the stairs were an impediment for the walker. Without saying a word, he carried the walker (not the woman) up the stairs and the 2 younger women assisted the woman without her walker to climb the stairs. This all happened in a heart-beat, and I wondered what an experienced guide would, or could, have done.

SJG - Turtle sunning - Photo by Lynnda
My other memorable tour was a goup of 3rd graders. I had six students and 2 dads on my tour. At one of my training sessions, someone had suggested that mangifying glasses were a good tool to use with elementary students. What a great idea! My group seemed very energetic, so I was surprised when I arrived at the azumaya and no one was behind me. Looking back on the path, the students were on their hands and knees, studying something intently. They were completely engaged and I was happy to see that until I realized what they were doing. One of the dads was showing how to start a fire using the magnifying glass and some dried leaves! Thanks Dads! And I thought you were supposed to be helping. I haven't brought my magnifying glasses to a tour since then.

SJG - Autumn Gingko leaves - Photo by Lynnda
The Garden is closed now, and I am reviewing the notebook we received during training. I've forgotten so much! I'm looking forward to new adventures and additional learning. I'm looking forward to sharing the Garden with visitors and seeing my fellow guides again in 2011. I can't wait for the explosion of color in May and June, the tranquility of lazy summer days, and most of all, introducing my new granddaughter to the Garden. : )


  1. Delightful and informative, Lynnda! Thanks so much for your timely intro to the 2011 season, due to officially begin February 13.

    I certainly empathize with your first-year guide apprehensions (clearly so well overcome!) And appreciate the anecdotes. They need to be added to Guides' Anedotes, the ongoing list of the best of. And what a great shot of the turtle!

  2. Lynnda,
    I enjoyed reading about your experiences of becoming a guide in the Garden. I doubt there is a guide among us who didn't have similar apprehensions during that first year.

    It's exciting that you will be returning for another year in the Garden, and what a great place to establish a bond with your new granddaughter. Did you have a ladder to stand on to get the great picture of the ginkgo leaves?

  3. Hi MAC - no ladder for the ginkgo. I think the rain brought them down a few feet. Or did I grow taller in the fall? :)

  4. hi Lynnda, great post! thanks, we can all relate:)

    about being a new guide and about Kathy - the Master Gardener; not sure if this comment belongs here, or under MAC's post, probably both.

    well, once guiding while being new, i foolishly signed up for a 'candling tour', or the tour which is lead when the pines are being trimmed in the month of may. i thought i'd read about it on the internet and throw some info into the main tour narrative, to be brought up when we pass a pine being candled.

    next morning at the gate, among the people who showed up for this public tour i found TWO ladies, who identified themselves as being in the landscape business... they were very business-like and brisk, you know - taking their precious time off and apparently thinking highly of our services and imagining that they can learn the art of candling... from me. for the 5 bucks entrance fee. drat.

    my internet-addled ignorance was about to be exposed, so i started the tour in less than cheerful mood and wishing for a sudden egg-size hail. fortunately Kathy was not far from the entrance and graciously took my 'problem' in her hands. she also acted as if it was normal that 5 minutes into the tour a guide accosts her to fill the next 25 minutes of it. she demonstrated and explained, broke candles while talking about the ratio of light to the ratio of the cut size, i nodded like a village idiot, and the landscaping ladies never knew their luck that day.

    needless to say i volunteered for real candling the very same day; so yes, there is always a place for additional learning in the Garden. even though you are not a 'new' guide anymore, Lynnda!