Pennsylvania garden lockdown enjoyable

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At work . . . Barbara Wheeler is ready for gardening, complete with face mask, at the Longwood Gardens' Hillside Garden space. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Living with more than 400 hectares of beautiful, world-class gardens on her doorstep is a wonderful boon for a Dunedin woman riding out the Covid-19 pandemic in Pennsylvania.

Dunedin Botanic Garden collections supervisor Barbara Wheeler has been based at the world-renowned Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, since June last year.

Ms Wheeler is one of six people from around the world studying under the prestigious 13-month residential Longwood Fellowship Programme, which aims to develop future leadership capacity within the public horticulture industry.

Barbara Wheeler

The first impacts of Covid-19 were felt in mid-March, at a time when Ms Wheeler was on a placement at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago.

After a late-night call, she raced to return to her US base at Longwood Gardens, in case travel restrictions came into force.

While there was no official lockdown in Pennsylvania (population 12.8 million), which has had more than 42,000 cases of Covid-19 and 1500 deaths, there was a “stay at home” order in place.

“We are required to wear face masks when out, so supermarket shopping with gloves and a face mask on makes for an interesting experience,” Ms Wheeler said.

There had been an initial rush to buy toilet paper and hand sanitiser, but overall people were following instructions and taking it in their stride.

However, with no reported cases of Covid-19 in her area, she felt relatively safe, especially as the local response was swift and rigorous.

“By the time I returned from field placement, Longwood Gardens was closed to the public, an unprecedented move previously only ever closed for big snow events.”

She felt fortunate to be weathering the Covid-19 pandemic with her five fellowship colleagues in a large, comfortable house within the bounds of the Longwood Gardens.

“I feel very lucky to have this ability to walk in a world-class garden, albeit a very different garden with only 45 staff currently allowed on site out of the usual 400-plus staff and over 800 volunteers.”

The group was working from home to complete the fellowship programme, including the delivery of some online content for the garden, and at weekends Netflix, books and photography kept them occupied.

She was also volunteering at Longwood Gardens to help the stretched garden staff maintain high standards for when it eventually reopened.

“I’ve been weeding my way through the Hillside Garden tiptoeing through the spring flush of perennials and removing any weed that should not be there.

“It feels great to be assisting Longwood Gardens in this way . . . It is also great to be out in the garden during spring and seeing the season progress.

“There are always so many more plants to learn and admire beauty of horticulture is you never know them all.”

She had decided to remain in the US until the completion of the fellowship programme at the end of June, but could not have returned anyway at present due to the situation with flights.

“I enjoy America and the people here, so it’s awesome that I can remain here until the end of June.”

In the meantime, she was happy maintaining contact with family and friends via phone, email and online platforms.

“I’m extremely appreciative of Dunedin City Council allowing me to take this time away on sabbatical.

“It really is a privilege to be able to spend a year focusing on my leadership and learning from global leaders.”