A finished label
Our repaired laser engraver.
Our repaired laser engraver.

To call everything by its right name …

This has long been the goal of the garden, but it has been difficult to put in practice.

Over the past few years, we have added thousands of new plants, but have had not been successful in labeling them. This has been a source of frustration for visitors, as they come across a plant of interest, but are unable to readily identify it.

The garden has had a laser engraver on site for over a decade, to make plant labels and other interpretive signage, but it has been in a state of disrepair for several years. Many attempts of fixing it by updating drivers, adding a new USB port, and tech support with the manufacturer have been tried, but never with lasting success.

Old plastic labels
Old plastic labels

We were ready to throw in the towel, but one of our many dedicated volunteers, Bob, asked if he could troubleshoot it further. It was discovered that the program that we had been using no longer communicated with the engraver, but a simple Word program would. This was the game changer we had been looking for!

Knowing that we now had a fully functioning engraver led us to brainstorm other ways we could improve our entire plant collections management systems, and this begins with the label itself.

A walk through the garden reveals that many of our existing labels were cracked, chipped, or just plain missing from its stake. The plastic labels become brittle over time and are susceptible to breakage from human and wildlife traffic through the garden beds.

Metal shear to cut aluminum.
Metal shear to cut aluminum.

The labels were secured to the stake with an industrial strength adhesive, but the number of empty stakes without a label told us that we needed to find a better way. We decided to move on from a plastic label to an exterior rated anodized aluminum label, as the metal label would hold up to the elements.

Additionally, the labels will now be mounted on a stake with two small rivets that keep them in place, rather than relying on the adhesive. The rivets are black, so they will blend in with the face of the label as much as possible.

With thousands of labels to make, cost effectiveness was a big consideration. Rather than send out for precut labels at a premium price, we decided to purchase large sheets of anodized aluminum and cut them to size ourselves.

To do this we needed to buy a shear, a piece of equipment that looks like a large paper cutter but is used to cut through metal. We line up the metal sheets up against wooden stops, to ensure a perfect cut when cutting different dimensions of signs.

The next step is putting each label in the corner cutter, which will take the sharp edge off of each sign and give it a sleek look. After this, the pop rivets attach to the stake and the label is ready to be placed in the garden!

We are going through old invoices to develop a spreadsheet of all the plants ordered over the past couple of years that will need a label made for them. Once we are caught up on these, we will turn our attention to the existing labels in the garden and converting them over to the new label style.

We are making labels right now and will start to place them out in the garden as they are completed, so be on the lookout for them when you visit us this spring! After this first phase of relabeling our plant collection is completed, we will look to use a GPS program to digitally map the plants, benches, etc. and have this information available online.

Colorful plants and flowers line the side of a path at Rotary Botanical Gardens

Time is taking its toll on our pathways

If you have visited the Gardens recently, it’s likely you noticed the poor condition of the Garden pathways. After 32 years of foot traffic and expected wear and tear from the elements, the paths are in dire need of our love and attention.

Many sections of the existing brick paths are uneven, cracked or broken.

Visitors of all abilities but especially those with mobility impairments, walkers, strollers, or wheelchairs, risk the chance of tripping and falling either onto the ground or into the pond. We can’t chance this happening to our loved ones any longer.

The Gardens, as a beautiful community asset, are a proven place of healing of mind, body, and soul for all ages and abilities and it’s essential to provide safe access and peace of mind for all who enter.

The proposed solution is to work with a local, small business and remove the existing path materials (prioritizing the sections that are in the worst condition and keeping the beloved memorial bricks in tact), level the ground, and install new, permeable pavers that meet ADA requirements. This will ensure that the new Garden paths are flat, level, permeable to water, and SAFE.

Example of a new and improved path
Example of a new and improved path

As a non-profit organization, the Gardens do not receive any funding from the city or state and rely solely on the generous patronage of the public to make such repairs.

This project is no small undertaking and comes with a sizeable price tag as most hardscape projects do. In total, the path removal and instillation will require ~$715,000.

Help us restore the Garden Pathways

While this figure could feel daunting, I am optimistic. We are a strong community that has proven that we come together to support what we care for.

With your financial support, the Gardens will remain a safe place for natural beauty, education, and the arts.

Thank you for your consideration and for always having our back.

It takes a village but is absolutely a labor of love.

You can contact Rotary Botanical Gardens staff with questions at [email protected].

A battery-powered riding lawnmower sits next to a pickup truck from Ace Hardware.

Donation helps us ditch gas-powered maintenance tools

Rotary Botanical Gardens recently received a donation that helped us reach a sustainability goal: to move away from gas powered landscape tools.

Andy and Carol Phelps answered our dreams; as true advocates for earth-friendly policies, they wanted to see that the garden’s shared passion for “going green” was attained by converting our tools to electric.

A battery-powered riding lawnmower sits next to a pickup truck from Ace Harware.
A battery-powered riding lawnmower sits next to a pickup truck from Ace Hardware.

The decision-making process

Knowing this was a core investment that we would be using for many years to come, we had a lot of homework to do to decide which products to put our money towards. We did the research on what tools were available, considering power, cost, and battery compatibility.

Ultimately, we decided on EGO tools. The fact that EGO had the fastest charge times (the chargers come with small fans that pulls away heat from the batteries), a riding mower in its fleet, and that all its 56V batteries work on all of its tools made it a no brainer to go with EGO.

A man mows grass using a battery-powered riding lawnmower
Mowing grass using a battery-powered riding lawnmower

Battery power has great benefits

The benefits of shifting to battery powered have been numerous and the new tools have quickly become staff favorites.

The most obvious advantage is that compared to gas, they are a better choice for the planet. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that running a lawn mower for an hour generates emissions closer to 350 miles of car travel, about the distance from Janesville to St. Louis.

As someone who has used gas powered tools for many years, I can tell you from firsthand experience that it isn’t a great sensation to run a backpack blower or snow blower for an hour or two and smell like fumes, not to mention breathing in the engine exhaust.

It is common for Garden staff to experience frustration in getting gas powered tools to start. Mixing fuel represents an environmental issue in itself as run off from mixing with oil or filling a gas tank ends up on the ground and eventually into our soil and water. California has already banned the sale of gas mowers and blowers, while Illinois and New York are considering similar action.

Electric tools mean no fuel mixing, pulling a cord, wondering if you have a bad spark plug, clogged carburetor, dirty air filter, or diagnosing something else. The reliability of putting a fresh battery in and going to work is refreshing.

Del uses a battery-powered hedge trimmer
Del uses a battery-powered hedge trimmer

But do they work as well as gas power?

A common question is, ‘Are the tools powerful enough?’ After using them for a few months, the resounding answer is YES!

All the tools are at least as powerful as their gas counterparts; the handheld blower and hedge trimmer are distinctly stronger. The tools run much quieter than typical gas, although hearing protection is still required for the operator, and are made more efficient in part because of their brushless motors.

We also love the innovation that EGO brings to make tools better. One of these features includes string trimmers that are automatically wound and require no bumping. The hedge trimmer has a blade that cuts on both sides and a feature that turns your grip, to avoid being in a painful position.

The chainsaws have an easy chain tension feature, and the blower pushes out air at over 200 mph. We can’t wait to test out the two-stroke snow blower this winter.

Emma wielding a leaf blower
RBG summer intern Emma wields a battery-powered leaf blower

Saving the planet and dollars

Furthermore, the timing of the transition could not have been better. With gas prices nearly doubling from what they were last year and at times nearing $5 a gallon, the cost to keep our old gas-powered tools running would have been exorbitant.

The initial sticker price of electric powered tools is higher than gas, but the cost savings is realized quickly when you factor in fuel and maintenance costs.

We aren’t the only ones who are switching over to electric power tools. Several other public gardens are doing the same, as well as the general public, as market research via the Freedonia Group expects sales of electric powered landscape tools to reach $14.1 billion by 2024.

Going green is a hill we’re proud to stand on; We hope that others will consider our experiences with battery powered tools when it comes to purchasing their next landscape tools.

Emma Wallace and a group of RBG volunteers pose near a golf cart
Emma Wallace
Emma Wallace

This post was written by Emma Wallace, RBG Horticultural Intern

What a great experience

As my internship at Rotary Botanical Gardens comes to a close, I am beginning to reflect on my time here. I have learned lots about plants, but what I’ve learned about people and mindsets, I will carry with me the rest of my life.

Emma wielding a leaf blower
Emma wielding a leaf blower

Finding my place at RBG

First, I’ll let you in on what I’ve been working on this summer. I have done lots of planting and weeding, in addition to plant identification, building planters, coming up with inspiration, leading volunteer groups, guiding tours, and any other odd jobs Michael decides to find for me to do.

I spent lots of my time planting and weeding the Reception Garden, as well as the Sunken Garden. I attempted to make floating Iris boxes (and failed), but it was the effort that counted, right?

 It’s amazing to think that trees I have planted this summer will be enjoyed by thousands of people over the years, and that I will get to watch the gardens I helped with mature into established beds. This garden has become my own garden in a way I wasn’t expecting it to be at the beginning of the summer.

Lots of jobs feel like a separate place from home that you commute to, but the Rotary Gardens has really become Mine. Obviously, it’s not, but the pride I feel and the community we have here makes it feel like home. I will always look fondly on my time here for that reason.

A summer made better by a community

One of the main reasons for my joy here is the community of volunteers and workers here. As many of the volunteers are older, I feel like I have adopted 20 new grandparents that I adore and that love me just as much as I love them. They have all been my teachers in many ways, especially the ones I got to work with one on one.

I wish I could have gotten to work more with everyone here, but here’s some of what I learned from the volunteers I got to work regularly with.


Del is a blast to work with, super upbeat and cheery. She has many great ideas about the gardens, and I love brainstorming with her. She does amazing work for the education and horticulture department, always pushing forward and creating new programs and ideas. She is an absolute joy to work with, and I will miss her a lot.

RBG staff & volunteers pose while holding flowers


Doris is one of the hardest workers I know. She is also a great leader and is always motivating her peers to accomplish more. She donates not only time to this garden, but a deep love and care for the gardens that spreads to everyone working with her. She is extremely sweet and kind as well. I just adore Doris, and she is such a role model.


Janet taught me the place that precision has in gardening. She is the most meticulous person I have ever met. No detail is left unnoticed by her, and it shows in her work. She is often in the Moss Garden with tweezers, getting the tiny weeds I couldn’t even notice. She is always happy to be here, and it is contagious. I am a better gardener from knowing Janet.

An RBG volunteer poses while holding flowers

Cookie Cathy

I worked with Cathy a lot this summer, and I am blessed to have gotten to. Cathy is the type of person to give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. She brings in cookies every Monday for us, and everyone gets excited when they enter the break room because they know they will get to enjoy her delicious treats.


Barb is the unofficial ringleader of the volunteers; she gets so much done that it is unbelievable. The way she organizes the story walk every year and how it turns out is genuinely impressive to me. The other volunteers call her the ultimate grandma, always taking care of everyone and making sure everyone has everything they need.

Cathy M

Cathy is another incredible worker here, who always comes in with a smile. She always checks in on me and makes sure I am taking care of myself in the heat, as well as that I am in good spirits. She helped me on a day I was sick, and it meant a lot to me to have her support.


I haven’t talked much to Ava, but she is probably the hardest worker I know. She gets down to business. She is also extremely meticulous and precise, but she somehow still works extremely fast and effective. She is the gold standard of a worker.


If Richard came into work, it was a guaranteed good day, and he regularly made my day when he surprised us with his presence. He is hilarious, meticulous, passionate, and caring. He always tells me stories about his family, and it is so clear how much he loves and cares about them.

He taught me a lesson that I needed to learn not just for work, but for my life, which is to slow down and enjoy the process of doing things. He’d regularly tell me to slow down while I work, not to an unproductive level, but enough to not be flying by the seat of my pants so that I could enjoy my work and efforts.

His pride in his work is contagious, in addition to his compassion for others. He wears the Grumpy hat, but he is the farthest person from Grumpy that I have ever met.


Casey and I got to work on many projects together. He was shy at first, but I soon realized he is always thinking something witty and hilarious. He is extremely hard working and is always covered in mud to the point it is comical. Casey is a great listener and greater friend, and I am very glad to have met him this summer.

A woman poses atop the fountain while holding onto a statue

Brian and Larry

I didn’t get to work much one on one with either, but they are both hard working staples to Rotary gardens. Without them, the gardens would simply not function. Brian is very diligent and kind, and Larry is always off doing some crazy job. Both of them are the foundation of this place, and they do fantastic work.


Obviously as my boss, I’ve probably learned the most botanical things from Michael. He’s taught me identification and all about plant care in multiple facets. He’s taught me to pay attention to the details, the importance of sustainability, and how to achieve it on a bigger scale.

He’s a great boss, always open to suggestions, compassionate but direct, efficient but not at the loss of fun or community, and always understanding. He also knows just about every plant in the gardens, including the scientific name, and that has lit a fire under me to retain more names. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to work here and learn from him.

Thanks for a great internship experience!

Overall, I am eternally grateful for my time here. It has been foundational for my education. I am excited to take what I have learned with me back to school this fall.

Thank you to all the volunteers and workers who made this job so special. Thank you to all the donors who made my job possible as well. Lastly, thank you Michael for the opportunity!

Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Mushrooms and fungi play important roles in the ecosystem

This post was written by Emma Wallace, RBG Horticultural Intern

Emma Wallace
Emma Wallace

I think most of us grow up thinking of mushrooms as this unknown, scary, forbidden entity that should not be touched or they will harm you in some way. However, this could not be farther from the truth.

Mushrooms and fungi actually are responsible for keeping our ecosystem running; they decompose waste, create symbiotic relationships that create nutrient pathways for trees, provide food for many creatures, and are all around fascinating creatures. They seem to run in the background, performing tasks we don’t even realize that hold up our planet.

Today I am going to attempt to scratch the surface of this world, starting with some friends you probably have growing in your yard. Some of them are great for soil, some are edible, and some are the ones your mom warned you about.

Please do not eat them, including the edible ones, unless you are experienced! This is merely just to introduce you to a world you may not know much about. All of these have been found at the gardens, so they can be a new thing to look for on your next visit!

Lets dive in!

Wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus)

Wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus)
Wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus)

I have found tons of these cute white mushrooms around the gardens in the mulch and around trees. It is fairly easy to identify: it has brown gills with brown spores, a white cap and stem, and typically has a ring from the membrane from which it emerges.

It is not edible in most field guides, but does make sweet fairy rings. This is such a lovely mushroom, and it always makes my day to find it because of how cute it is.

Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Oyster mushroom- Pleurotus ostreatus

These are the classic edible mushroom, and they have even made their way into nearly every grocery store. They are extremely delicious and taste kind of like fish. They are also super easy to identify!

They have decurrent gills that tunnel all the way down the stem. They are also typically yellow, but also can be white or brown. They are found on dead or dying hardwood trees.

Pheasant backs (Polyporus squamosus)

Pheasant backs (Polyporus squamosus)
Pheasant backs (Polyporus squamosus)

Another edible friend! Pheasant back mushrooms are also saprotrophic like oyster, meaning they grow on dying trees. These fellas smell like watermelon and have a pheasant back pattern on their caps, hence the name.

They have black stems, and very large pores. Only the small ones are edible, as the big ones get very woody.

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor)
Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor)

A mushroom that prevents cancer? Turkey tails are currently being studied for their crazy medicinal properties.

This mushroom also grows on dying trees. Here’s some identification features: rings of multiple, contrasting colors of grey and brown, fuzzy grey hairs, tiny white pores, and extreme flexibility. There are many look-alikes, but none of them are poisonous.

I have seen them completely cover logs, which makes for a beautiful sight.

Puff balls (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Puff balls (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Puff balls (Lycoperdon perlatum)

You’ve probably played with puffball mushrooms as a kid, likely kicking them and watching them explode. They are the easiest edible mushroom to identify because of their very large, white, spherical shape. The edible ones are solid white throughout the mushroom, not black or yellow like the non-edible ones.

They are fantastic in soups or as a keto pizza crust! When dried, they earn their namesake, as if you touch them, a spray of spores will fill the air like a dust. These are very entertaining, especially to kick and explode.

This is only the tip of the iceberg

Like I said, this is merely an introduction to mushrooms so that you may begin to enjoy them in addition to the plants at the gardens. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend picking up a field guide, as they are extensive and very interesting.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at [email protected]! I would love to chat with you, as this is one of my passions.