The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

volunteer opportunities

Submit a volunteer application and register for a New Volunteer Orientation.

Preregistration required for all orientations and trainings.


Winter 2017: PDF

Docent Kathy Wirstrom in the Arid House
Docent Kathy Wirstrom in the Arid House

Docent (year-round)
Our docents spark curiosity and a love of the natural world in kids of all ages through the Arb and Gardens' school and youth programming. For many of the docents, it's the unique combination of personal interest and educational development that inspires them to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with others. A comprehensive eight-week training, ongoing education, and two-year commitment is required. Our next training will begin January 2017.

As a docent you will:

  • Lead school-age children in guided interpretive programs that emphasize exploration and discovery. Programs satisfy Michigan Science Education standards (weekday mornings/academic year)
  • Lead youth and families in activities that promote environmental enjoyment and stewardship. (evenings and weekends/ year-round)
  • Conduct occasional adult tours
  • Work with fellow docents and staff to develop educational materials
  • Enjoy a rewarding service-learning opportunity

Campus Farm (UM Students Only)
Part of the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program (UMSFP) the Campus Farm is located at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. As much laboratory as classroom, the Campus Farm connects students with nature through small-scale food production. Workdays are scheduled throughout the growing season.
Learn more

Cultivating Community (UM Students Only)
This UM student organization, sponsored by Matthaei-Nichols, offers hands-on experiences in sustainable food systems through small-scale organic gardening, field trips to local food-related projects, and workshops on various aspects of sustainable food production and consumption. Cultivating Community has an on-campus garden located at the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning at 1024 Hill Street, where students can come for drop-in workdays and workshops on various topics.
Learn more

Conservatory Assistant Evan Stosick
Conservatory Assistant Evan Stosick

Conservatory (year-round)
Enjoy the tropical, temperate, and arid environments of the Conservatory and assist with general maintenance. Activities include weeding, pruning, watering, seasonal plantings, signage care, and other work to help make the Conservatory look inviting and neat.
Weekdays, 8-10 am.

Collections (year-round)
The Conservatory is home to more than 1,000 species of plants including four special collections that are maintained by skilled volunteers who are also members of local horticultural societies. These opportunities are limited and by invitation only given the specialized care that these collections require.

Volunteer Samantha Rahmani
Volunteer Samantha Rahmani

Gaffield Children’ Garden Team (April – Oct)
Enjoy this playful, interactive landscape as you help tend 15 unique feature gardens - including veggies, herbs, butterfly, fairy & troll knoll and more! Volunteers must enjoy working in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
Fridays, 9 am-noon.

Garden Teams at Matthaei (April – Oct.)
Learn new gardening techniques while you help maintain a variety of unique display & exhibit gardens at Matthaei. Activities include planting, weeding, mulching, pruning, and other seasonal garden maintenance. Garden locations vary.
Tues, Wed & Thurs 9 am-noon.

Garden Teams at Nichols (April – Oct.)
Enjoy the beautiful natural setting of the Arb as you help maintain the horticultural collections featured at the Washington Heights entrance including the Peony Garden, Gateway Garden, Laurel Ridge, and heirloom climbing roses.
Monday & Friday 9 am-noon.

Greenhouse Assistants Denise Neely & Sayaka Terada
Greenhouse Assistants Denise Neely & Sayaka Terada

Greenhouse (Feb.– early May)
Assist horticulture staff with plant propagation and seed production for University classes, public sales, display gardens, and exhibits.
Weekdays 9 am-noon.


There's a lot happening throughout the year at the Arb and Gardens and we need your help to spread the word! Opportunities include poster distribution, photography, social media, outreach events, and more.
Flexible schedule.


Eco-Restoration Workdays (year round)
These public stewardship events are held each month at the Arb (2nd Saturdays) and Gardens (3rd Saturdays) from 9 am-noon. To receive monthly email reminders about these workdays sign up below:

Join the Eco Workdays Email List

Volunteers from the the Wild Ones - Ann Arbor Chapter
Volunteers from the the Wild Ones
Ann Arbor Chapter

Restoration, Trails & Trees (year round)
Learn more about your favorite natural areas & trails while you help preserve the native eco-systems at the Arb & Gardens! Activities primarily include the removal of non-native, invasive plants. Fall/winter work involves the use of loppers and hand saws as well as cutting, dragging, and piling brush. Spring/summer work primarily involves hand weeding.

Volunteers may also help with general trail maintenance activities include lining, clearing of fallen debris, pruning trailside plants, erosion control, litter pick up, and some limited construction projects. Occasional tree care activities include planting, mulching, caging, staking and pruning.
Flexible schedule, weekdays, AM/PM, Arb & Gardens.

Burn Crew Volunteers strike a pose
Burn Crew Volunteers strike a pose

Prescribed Burn Crew (Fall & Spring)
Our prescribed-burn team learns about and participates in the use of controlled fire as a restoration tool. All activities are physically demanding.
Volunteers are on call for weekday, afternoon burns (1:00-4pm) at the Arb & Gardens. Training is offered in October.

Native Plant Gardens & Seeds (Year Round)
Learn more about landscaping with plants that are native to SE Michigan as you tend a variety of gardens at Matthaei and Nichols that feature species found in prairie, oak opening and woodland settings. This group is active year round and activities include general garden maintenance (April – September) and seed collection/propagation (October – March). Previous experience with native plant ID is preferred, but not required.
Various locations, weekly, AM & PM options.

Photo volunteer Albert Anthony
Photo volunteer Albert Anthony
  • OFFICE SUPPORT (year round)

Volunteers work behind the scenes to help keep our general operations running smoothly. Help with mailings, filing, data entry, and more.
Flexible schedule.

  • PHOTOGRAPHY (year round)

The Arb and Gardens provides natural inspiration for artists in every season. Photography volunteers capture images of people, plants, and events for use in our publications, on our website, and in marketing materials and special projects. Volunteers must have their own personal digital camera (high megapixel capacity preferred) and have work reviewed by MBGNA staff in advance of assignment.
Flexible schedule.

Ambassador Carol Figarra in the Conservatory
Ambassador Carol Figarra in the Conservatory

Ambassadors provide a welcoming atmosphere as they greet and guide visitors at key locations at the Gardens. Volunteers will learn about our mission, programs, general points of interest, visitor etiquette, and customer service. Volunteers will also learn the specifics related to assigned areas, i.e., Conservatory, display gardens, and children's garden. Training and ongoing education is provided for volunteers working in each area.

Conservatory Ambassador (Nov.–April)
Conservatory ambassadors welcome visitors as they explore a living museum of plants found in tropical, temperate, and arid regions of the world. Conservatory Ambassadors also learn about the basic Conservatory features, collections, seasonal exhibits, and special events.
Two shifts per month minimum and monthly education sessions.
Weekdays/weekends, AM & PM.
Required training in October.

Ambassador Karen Kerr in the Gaffield Childrens Garden
Ambassador Karen Kerr in the Gaffield Childrens Garden

Garden Ambassador (May–Oct.)
Garden Ambassadors enjoy the beauty and variety of the gardens while inviting visitors to take a closer look during the growing season. Ambassadors will assist visitors with basic questions, way finding, and seasonal points of interest. Special attention will be given to young visitors and families as they experience the different elements of the Children's Garden. We are looking for volunteers with a love of gardens who enjoy working with a diverse array of visitors.
Two shifts per month minimum and monthly education sessions.
Weekdays/weekends, AM & PM.
Required training in April.

Garden Ambassador Training 2016 (choose one):
Wednesday April 13 or Saturday, April 16
Each session is held 9:00 am - 4:00 pm, Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Pre-registration is required.

Peony Ambassadors
Help us show people the wonders of the Peony Garden! Ambassadors will learn about the largest public collection of heirloom herbaceous peony cultivars in North America. Ambassadors greet and guide visitors to points of interest in the peony garden during peak bloom season. Ideal volunteers will have good 'people skills, a genuine interest in the collection and an ability to work independently with a diverse array of visitors. To join the team, you must attend the Peony Ambassador Training. The training session includes an overview of the peony collection's history, horticultural basics and tips for working with the public.
Evening and weekend shifts available from late May into June.

Peony Ambassador Training 2016
Tues. April 26
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm at the Nichols Arboretum Reader Center
Pre-Registration is required.


Want to get involved but need a more flexible schedule? Consider volunteering at one of our special events. Preregistration and orientation is required prior to volunteering for all events.

Ann Arbor Orchid Show & Sale (March/April)
Volunteers greet and guide the public to points of interest at this annual event including orchid displays, commercial vendors, orchids and supplies for sale and informational talks and demonstrations on various aspects of orchid culture. Presented by Ann Arbor Orchid Society.

Pete & Pat Wilcox
Pete & Pat Wilcox

Spring Plant Sales at the Gardens (May)
Kick off the growing season by lending a hand at one of our spring plant sales! The sales offer a great opportunity for Master Gardeners and other green thumb folks who like to lend a hand, share their knowledge of gardening—and pick up some unique, plants, too! All proceeds go to support public programs at the Arb and Gardens.

Peony Sale at the Arb (May/June)
This popular sale features the same varieties of heirloom peonies that grow in the U-M Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden—the largest collection of heirloom peonies in North America.

Shakespeare In The Arb (June)
A theater production of the LSA Residential College that moves through different areas of the Arb. Performances held Thursday–Sunday evenings in June. This beloved annual tradition is eagerly anticipated by the community and commands sold-out performances. Volunteers assist with ticket sales and , membership support in the box office. Volunteers also enjoy the show while ushering the audience throughout the Arb as actors move from scene to scene.
Orientation Required. Thursday – Sunday evening shifts.

Ann Arbor Bonsai Show (August)
Volunteer great and guide visitors at this annual event presented by the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society. Activities include a formal display, vendor sale and demonstrations.

Run for the Arb Volunteers
Beta Theta Pi at Run for the Arb

Music in the Arb (September)
A series of summer concerts held at the Amphitheater in Nichols Arboretum featuring eclectic music from local bands and performers. Volunteers direct audience members to the amphitheater and also help with set up and tear-down.

Run for the Arb (October)
A special fundraising run/walk/stroll through the trails of Nichols Arboretum. Volunteers help out with registration, way-finding, refreshments and finish line.

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