A view of a sunny day in the Japanese Garden,

Hi! My name is Samantha Mundy

Samantha Mundy
Samantha Mundy

I’m the summer intern this year! I’m currently pursuing a degree in Horticulture with a concentration in Public Horticulture from Purdue University.

I’m from Indiana, and it’s nice, but I’ve lived there my whole life, and I wanted the experience of living out-of-state before I graduate. Wisconsin is a beautiful state, and it’s similar enough to home that the move wasn’t too jarring.

I’m passionate about plants, of course, but I also love animals! Growing up, my family always had pets, which definitely impacted me. I have a lot of fond memories of chasing lizards in Florida and listening for birds on the porch at home. The animals got me interested in the plants, not the other way around!

Speaking of birds, I’ve started carrying around a Birds of Wisconsin book with me so I can check off any new bird species I see, and I’m taking maybe too many pictures of the critters around the gardens. Everyone tells me I’ll get tired of seeing the deer so close up, but I don’t think I will!

I’ve previously worked at the Purdue Horticulture Greenhouse, which was a good jumping off point in terms of what it’s like to work with plants in general, but this job is so much more involved, both in the work I’m doing and the interactions I have with others.

At the greenhouse, I was doing most of my work alone, and now there are people around all the time! That makes the day much more enjoyable. Everyone has been so kind to me and it’s really helped me as I’ve started to get into the rhythm of the work.

I also work for Purdue Dining, which is much more fast-paced but also confirmed my drive to do work that helps people, even if it’s just helping them have a good lunch! After doing this internship for a while, the personal satisfaction of making an enjoyable experience for visitors has proven to have carried over.

The work itself is surprisingly fun, too. It’s been a lot of weeding, planting, and general maintenance, which I’ve found only gets more satisfying as time goes on. Spending so much time digging around in the dirt has also allowed me to indulge in my other hobby: Roly-polies!

I currently have two tanks in my room which I started in January of this year, both with wild-caught individuals from around Purdue and my home. Some of them are orange!

I’ve added a few that I’ve caught here to my tanks, but unfortunately, it looks like the populations around the garden are infected with a virus, so some of the species are off-limits for keeping. Still, I like looking for them when I’m weeding and admiring all the different colors.

In addition to my typical work around the gardens, I’m also working on a project involving the prairie next to the gardens. I’ve been recording the species present currently, and I’ll eventually put together a list of plants that we should plant there, whether they’re new species entirely or were planted there originally in 1995 and have since died out.

I’ll also be noting what plants in the prairie are invasive and how we could potentially get rid of them. It’s been a pretty big undertaking, but I’m having a lot of fun with it!

Even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve learned so much about what it means to work in a garden like this and how dedicated everyone is to making sure guests have an enjoyable and educational experience. I love knowing that what I do will have an impact on people, and I’m excited to be a part of this great group of people!

Hello everyone, my name is Emily Cox

Emily Cox

I am thrilled to introduce myself as the Administrative & Volunteer Coordinator at Rotary Botanical Gardens. I joined the team in December 2023, and I have been incredibly fulfilled by my role and the scenic environment I get to work in every day.

Growing up in Footville, WI, I spent many spring and summer days with my family enjoying the vibrant colors and beauty of the Gardens. These experiences fostered my love for the outdoors and art, leading me to attend the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for its impressive art department, strong focus on nature, and dedication to sustainability. I spent countless hours drawing and painting in Schmeeckle Reserve, a 280-acre nature conservancy on campus, while immersing myself in the abundance of plants and local wildlife.

After graduating with my Bachelor of Fine Arts – 2D Emphasis and a Minor in Business, I began my professional career as a Designer and Production Coordinator at a local screen print and embroidery shop in Janesville, WI. In this role, I honed my skills in visual design, client relationships, and people management. Although I enjoyed my time working in Janesville, I felt ready to branch out and explore more opportunities out of state.

Another passion of mine is my love for dogs, especially my own dog at the time, Beasly. While searching for a new role, I wanted to ensure I could be with her as we settled in a new city, which led me to accept a position as a Customer Experience Associate at The Farmer’s Dog in Nashville, TN. Their pet-friendly work environment and dedication to dog health drew me in instantly.

During my time at The Farmer’s Dog, I worked with a diverse customer base and acquired new skills in account management, marketing, and brand communications. I had opportunities to work with specialized groups, volunteer with our Community Team at events, analyze customer data with the NPS (Net Promoter Score) team, mentor new associates through the Guide Dogs program, and even present a customer lifecycle communications project to leaders of the Growth, Brand, and Training teams.

Pictured: Beasly and I posing with the famous Doug the Pug at the 2022 Sylvan Park Puppy Play Date while volunteering with The Farmer’s Dog’s Community Team.

I also witnessed the positive impact of the food not only on our customers’ dogs but on Beasly and other dogs in my family. Just before our move to Nashville, Beasly was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and passed away in August 2022. Her switch to fresh food and regular treatments allowed us to enjoy her last nine months to the fullest. Losing her made my time in Nashville bittersweet, but the impact of The Farmer’s Dog’s products and the amazing people I worked with made this experience unforgettable.

The transition to a new city, state, and professional role was outside of my comfort zone, but it helped me grow both personally and professionally. While I enjoyed Nashville’s many offerings, I found myself missing my family and friends back home, the unique friendliness of Wisconsin culture, and less humid summers. With my newfound experience, I knew it was important to find a role and organization focused on making a positive impact on the community.

When I learned Rotary Botanical Gardens was hiring, I was excited to contribute to their mission of enriching lives and to work in the beautiful environment that inspired me as a child. From my first day at Rotary Botanical Gardens, I was impressed by the welcoming environment created by both the staff and volunteers. I have had the pleasure of working with an incredibly talented and supportive team, making my transition seamless and enjoyable.

Initially hired as the Administrative Coordinator, I also took on the role of Volunteer Coordinator in late February. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. I have met many amazing people who dedicate their time and energy to helping maintain and improve the Gardens, and I am in awe of their meaningful contributions. I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with them and hope to continue growing our community of volunteers.

Looking ahead, I am eager to dive into my many new projects and responsibilities, which I believe will elevate the impact of Rotary Botanical Gardens in Rock County and Wisconsin. Thank you for taking the time to read about my journey. I look forward to connecting with many of you — don’t hesitate to say, “Hello” if you see me on your next visit to the Gardens!

Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Golden Glory'

What a whirlwind 2024 has already been …

With unusual warmth in February and March, the garden was awakened earlier than ever. Winter aconite, hellebores, and even some of the earliest daffodils flowered in February, at one-point blooms were about 3 weeks ahead of schedule from where we typically are accustomed to.

Cooler temperatures in late March and early April have slowed our record pace this spring, but that isn’t a bad thing. We saw flower buds on Magnolia trees start to swell to the point where they were nearly ready to open; luckily none of ours did, so they remained unscathed and ready to flower with profusion in the next week or two.

From the hundreds of thousands of bulbs, to all our flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials, the garden is set to tantalize the senses with a bevy of color and fragrance this spring. This might just be my favorite time of year because we have so much interest to look forward to in the garden.

Spring has definitely sprung at Rotary Botanical Gardens!

See you in the garden.
Michael Jesiolowski – Director of Horticulture

Artist Emily Balsley poses in front of her Comfort Station Mural

We’re thrilled to announce our new mural is officially complete!

Comfort Station Mural

In support of our mission to Enrich Lives Through Natural Beauty, Education, and the Arts, we enlisted the talented local artist, Emily Balsley, to create a whimsical mural inside the Gardens’ new Comfort Station.

This colorful addition welcomes visitors as they enter the Comfort Station and covers a good portion of the hallway leading to the restrooms. The design features larger-than-life flowers that can be found in the Gardens, such as alliums, bee balm, coneflowers, and salvia.

It also showcases some of our local wildlife including monarch and swallowtail butterflies, rusty patch bees, a hummingbird, and an oriole. Check out the photos below for a preview of this beautiful mural!

About the artist

Emily Balsley is an illustrator & muralist based out of Madison, WI. She is an active member of the creative community and has completed various creative projects throughout Wisconsin, including murals located at Unity Point Meriter, Stoughton Public Library, Milton Public Library, and outside St. Mary’s School in Janesville.

A special thank you to Emily for sharing her artistic talents with us, and for all of the hard work she put into this piece. We would also like to thank Marsha Mood for documenting the progress of this mural over the last few weeks.

We can’t wait for you to visit us and see for yourself!

A view of the 2023 Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday LIght Show

Our 27th annual Holiday Light Show marked a record year, thanks to you, the incredible 60,000 people who immersed themselves in the glow of 1.5 million lights.

Whether you joined us for Premier Night with 550 of our fellow Friends of the Garden Members and their loved ones, attended one of the 10 corporate parties celebrating under the lights, or made memories during one of the 27 show nights, your presence made each night special. We are so happy to have made it through the month without a single weather-related cancellation!

A view of the 2023 Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday LIght Show

While many of us think of the Holiday Light Show as a winter celebration, it’s worth noting that behind the scenes, Larry Holterman, our Gardens’ longstanding “light artist,” started the monumental task of stringing lights this year on August 7, with so many other skilled staff and volunteers making the long set up a labor of love.

90% of this years 1.5 million lights were energy-efficient LEDs, “icicle” lights reached heights equivalent to scaling Mount Everest TWICE, and the Gardens dazzled with 160 lit arches and 2,475 luminaries made from recycled milk cartons.

To power this year’s display, we utilized 11.5 miles of extension cords – enough to stretch from Rotary Botanical Gardens to Beloit! The meticulous process of connecting cords, lasting three weeks, ensured the prevention of tripped circuits or damaged cords.

A resounding thank you and shout out to the 83 invaluable volunteers who contributed 1,456 hours (not including set up and take down!) helping the show run smoothly and creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Your dedication and passion truly illuminated the Gardens.

The Rotary Botanical Gardens Comfort Station was busy during our 2023 Holiday Light Show.
The Rotary Botanical Gardens Comfort Station was busy during our 2023 Holiday Light Show.

The new Comfort Station for concessions and restrooms was a hit as we served 1,148 gallons of hot cocoa, and you all devoured over 5,047 holiday cookies – talk about embracing the festive spirit!

The media took notice, with news and radio features, blogs, travel articles, vlogs, and even a nomination for the 2024 “Christmas Light Fight”! Your enthusiasm and the magic you created at the Gardens resonated far and wide.

A view of the 2023 Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday LIght Show

A heartfelt thank you to our generous event sponsors who played a crucial role in making this magical experience possible. Your support allowed us to spread joy and create unforgettable moments for our community.

The successful 2023 Holiday Light Show, a record-breaking year and the Gardens’ largest feature fundraiser for our year-round mission, means we can continue serving our community by enriching lives through natural beauty, education, and the arts.

A view of the 2023 Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday LIght Show

As we embark on the task of dismantling the show, our gaze shifts to the upcoming growing season at the Gardens. Anticipating the welcome of 150,000 visitors throughout Spring, Summer, and Fall, we are gearing up for a range of offerings, including award-winning horticultural displays, diverse education programs for youth and adults, music, art and movement classes, workshops, and engaging talks.

Thank you again, for enjoying the Holiday Light Show with us. We love that we get to be a part of holiday traditions for so many. Here’s to more magical moments in the seasons to come!