For two decades, Mark Dwyer has been at the center of Rotary Botanical Gardens.
Directors and board members have come and gone, but Dwyer has remained as the gardens’ horticultural manager and its public face.
Not anymore. Over the weekend, Dwyer announced on social media that his last day will be Aug. 30. On Monday, he made it official with staff and volunteers.
He doesn’t have new work lined up but instead will be “taking time with family and exploring new opportunities.”
Dwyer has been at the gardens’ horticultural helm for 20 of its 30 years. He has designed annual gardens and created new ones, overseen staff and volunteers, run fundraisers, spoken to community groups, led educational programs in the state and around the country, assembled educational symposiums, and worked with donors.
Under his leadership, the gardens expanded from 15 to 20 acres. They were written about in magazines and garden books and collected a variety of awards, including several first-place awards in the landscape design competition for All-America Selections and a Forward Janesville Community Improvement Award.
Rotary Botanical Gardens are also national display gardens for the American Hosta Society and the American Hemerocallis (daylily) Society. They are among 15 U.S. botanical gardens recognized by the Hardy Fern Foundation.
The work hasn’t been without challenges.
For the last 15 years, the number of paid grounds staff has remained more or less the same with a few cutbacks, Dwyer said.
Volunteers have filled the gap. Volunteers once provided up to 17,000 hours of labor a year for the gardens. That’s 425 40-hour weeks or the equivalent of 21.25 full-time employees working from May to September—the busiest time of year.
Last year, volunteer numbers dropped to about 12,000 hours.
Many volunteers have worked at the gardens nearly as long as Dwyer has. A handful have been there longer.
“It’s the people, the grounds staff and the volunteers that I’ll miss the most,” he said.
Dwyer’s pep talks during 10 a.m. work breaks were not exactly legendary, but they certainly were memorable. He remembered people’s names, made them laugh, and quickly learned which skills they had and didn’t have.
During work days and plant sales, volunteers assailed him with questions about their personal gardens, plant choices and garden designs.
Dwyer described the volunteers as the “family of the gardens.”
“I hope that this family continues to work at the gardens,” he said. “The garden needs these people.”