One of the best experiences of my life!

August 17, 2018 Horticulture Department

My name is Dan Auerbach and I’m from Philadelphia, PA. I have one year left at Temple University to earn my bachelor’s degree in horticulture. I was fortunate enough to receive the Propagation, Production and Seed Herbarium Maintenance Internship at Denver Botanic Gardens for the summer.

I have visited Colorado several times before, but had never been to the Gardens. The Gardens is incredible, and my first impression was that it all seemed too good to be true. Ten weeks of horticulture at one of the most prestigious botanic gardens in the world! I was excited, but still unaware of the full scope of experiences that I was in for.

My horticultural mentor, Senior Horticulturist and Head Propagator Katy Wieczorek, filled me in on the details of the project I would be working on for the summer. It was extensive and had multiple components but can be generalized as a seed germination experiment dealing only with native Colorado species. I would be researching and evaluating the effects of seed pre-treatments on germination.

I began by selecting over 180 native Colorado plant species that the Gardens currently had seed of. These species were selected based upon several conditions: plants that had previously existed in the Gardens, are currently in the Gardens but are old, or in the Gardens but in low population numbers. Each species was sown in two duplicate trays.

One tray received no pretreatment and the other was subject to pretreatment. Pretreatments included cold stratification (subjecting seeds to low temperatures for a certain period), various methods of scarification (weakening or breaking a seed coat) and imbibition (soaking seeds in water). Beyond my project, I also engaged in other aspects of the Gardens’ propagation efforts and operations, including propagation by cuttings, seed collection and integrated pest management. Katy is extremely knowledgeable, passionate and hard-working and happily shared her expertise with me.

In addition to working on interesting projects, we interns were given the royal treatment. Every Monday afternoon a different member of the horticulture staff would lead a plant families class and plant walk, followed by a workshop exploring topics like herbarium collections, orchid mounting and even public speaking with CEO Brian Vogt. Every Friday we took field trips to various points of horticultural interest around Colorado and even as far as Wyoming. Different horticulturists and horticulture staff members would chaperone and provide expert-level information regarding the plant life and ecosystem of the area. It was a privilege to experience these incredible places with the people who know them best.

Among my favorite of the trips were Pawnee Buttes with Senior Curator & Director of Outreach Panayoti Kelaidis and Associate Director of Horticulture Dan Johnson; Loveland Pass and Betty Ford Alpine Gardens with Curator of Alpine Collections Mike Kintgen and Horticulturist Amy Schneider; and Mount Goliath, again with Amy.

Not only did we learn about native plants in the field and the dynamics of stewarding the Gardens, were also introduced to other potential opportunities in horticulture. We were given private tours from the horticulturists that grow plants for animal exhibits and landscaping at the Denver Zoo, wholesale production at Welby Gardens nursery and learned about invertebrate gardening within the conservatory of The Butterfly Pavilion.

I am astounded by the level of which the Gardens’ staff went out of their way to educate as well as entertain us. I cannot say enough good things about them. Genuine, welcoming, positive, passionate, kind, knowledgeable, supportive—the list goes on. They were the real reason why this experience has been so incredible. Oh, and I should mention I got paid! Hard to believe, I know.

It is sad to think that my time here is ending, but I am sincerely grateful to Denver Botanic Gardens, my mentor Katy and all those who make the Gardens the special place that it is. This internship was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life.

Dan Auerbach has always had an appreciation for science and nature, so he registered as a biology major when he enrolled at Temple University. By the end of freshman year, his strong interest in plants made him switch his major to horticulture. He’s extremely grateful for this internship opportunity, which will help him to pursue a horticulture career in Colorado, where he plans to move after graduation.  

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