Trent Martino: Art Service 2021

Gardening at Vizcaya

My name is Trent Martino. I am a junior at Florida International University, and I am studying Electrical Engineering. This is my second semester with Professor John Bailly, and this is my Art Service Project for the Spring 2021 semester! 

Here I am in the “back garden” at Vizcaya.
Photo taken by Trent Martino CC / BY 4.0

For my art service project, I got the awesome opportunity to help the well-known Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Vizcaya is one of Miami’s oldest historical sites. From the beginning of its original conception, James Deering, the original owner of the building, had a vision for creating a beautiful, expansive garden. Even today, there is a great amount of effort to keep the gardens on the property in a good condition (in fact, a few months ago I was visiting the museum for another assignment, and they were working on a rather elaborate restoration project on the gardens). 

    Without a doubt, the garden is one of the most notable aspects of the property. While of course, the house is a beautiful site on its own, and the stone barge right on the coast behind it is truly a sight to behold, the garden, in my opinion, is on a whole other level. There are just so many beautiful plants everywhere, and the statues there will make you feel like you went back in time to an ancient Roman landscape. Of course, this comes as no surprise, as the garden was designed to Italian Renaissance specifications, which borrow lightly from the ancient Greek/ Roman art styles. In fact, there are several statues that pay homage to Greek and Roman gods and folklore. 

Here is a view of what the ground looked like after we finished pulling the weeds. I wish I got a “before” picture! But just imagine that the ground is 80% covered in weeds.
Photo taken by Trent Martino CC / BY 4.0

    The volunteering assignment that I signed up for was to help the gardening employees, who are the ones who arrange and maintain the gardens at the Vizcaya Museum. While the role I played was rather small, it was still (according to them) detrimental to helping them commit to the big picture. You see, in order to make sure that the plants in the garden are always looking exceptional, the gardeners have a section across the street from the main property where they grow and tend to other plants that are not on display. While this section is not seen by the public (in fact, before volunteering here, I had no idea that it even existed), it is still super critical to the employees availability to keep the main gardens in tip-top shape. For the sake of brevity, from here on out I’ll refer to it as the “back garden.” While I was volunteering at Vizcaya, I was helping the tenders with upkeep on the back garden. Since we live in Florida, and it’s almost summer, that means it rains a lot. If you have a garden in your backyard here, then you know that there can be a lot of weeds to pull out after a few days of heavy rain. This is where me, and my fellow volunteers, came in to play. The garden staff asked us to help them to remove the weeds that were growing through the rocks on the ground in the back garden. The lady who was instructing us told us that, even though they had a weed mesh buried underground, that weeds still grew through it every single time (and also gave us a nice piece of advice – do not bother purchasing such things as they are a huge waste of money). 

     While this may seem like a very minor task, let me tell you, pulling weeds is not as easy as it may seem. It can look like an easy job at first, but after a few minutes it can become quite daunting. If anyone reading this does any garden work in South Florida, then you know just how bad the weeds can get during the rainy seasons. And boy, oh boy, did they get bad in this little garden. In the back garden, they have rocks laid out on the ground, and the weeds are able to grow up through the weed mesh and then up though the rocks, making most of it seem like it’s just a grassy little field. I have to say, the contrast of how it looked from before and after we worked was quite astounding. I filled up two large garden planter pots just on my own, and the other volunteers pulled up at least as much as I did. It was really cool to see everyone work together, and watch all of the small incremental work that we did add up to what ended up being a really clean-looking garden. 

    Overall, I think that this was a really good volunteering experience. I was able to get out of my house, and work on something that actually helped an institution that I genuinely respect. The work that we did was appreciated by the staff there, and it felt like I got to see in real-time the progress that the other volunteers and myself were accomplishing. However, I think that there was one issue that could help improve the volunteering experience, and possibly help the employees get more work done with the volunteers. The employees seemed pretty surprised at how many people showed up (which I think is a common trend for these kinds of things, no one really expects people to show up for free work I suppose), so the task that they had us do was more suitable for significantly fewer people. This meant that we got done a whole hour early, and the garden employees told us that we could leave, as they didn’t anticipate this and didn’t have anything else for us to do. While this was really nice, I wish that I had some other way to help them. I think that if the garden employees had some other ideas in mind for how to use the volunteers that they got, then it would make for a better experience overall. Us volunteers could have some more cool behind-the-scenes experiences, and the employees can have a few more hands to help out with their other tasks. 

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