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Julia Rundberg


Fresh from Minnesota, Idaho Botanical Garden's new executive director, Julia Rundberg, took over her post as commander in chief the first of this year. In an interview with Boise Weekly, Rundberg explains how Idaho Botanical Garden keeps all those grounds looking good, what the future holds for the state's "living museum," and what you're missing out on if you have yet to stroll through Idaho's official garden.

How did you end up at Idaho Botanical Garden?

It's a fit for so many of the areas I have experiences in, but all in one position. I have a background ... in biology with a business administration minor, and I did graduate work in natural resource management. In the first parts of my career I focused on education, and the garden has a deep and rich education program, so I have background in understanding the ins and outs of those programs and how they work.

I've also done lots of time in Minnesota state programs as a park planner and as a manager, and I spent three years doing management plans for parks. On top of all that, I spent three and a half years doing development fund raising for nonprofit development in Minnesota. All of those things are pieces of what this garden is about.

Idaho Botanical Garden has a wonderful master plan, but it needs to bring the community into place to use that plan. The board of directors is looking at what stage this garden is at, and it has a great foundation and framework, but it's at this point that it needs to step up and become a nonprofit business, to have some management pieces come into play so that it's self-sustaining. That means working with garden staff and horticulture people to determine what the garden is and what makes it unique.

What's your vision for the gardens in both the short and long terms?

In the short term, we want to freshen up the garden. We have 33 acres, and 14 of them are developed into formal maintained gardens, which leaves not quite 20 acres for other uses. We'll be doing more plantings and trail opportunities in the short term to get people connected to the larger part of the garden. We're also looking at educational programs to see if there are gaps in other garden clubs that we can fill.

In the long term, we want to take the plateau that we're on and leap to that next step by implementing the next stage of our master plan, which is figuring out how to build an education center here. We currently service thousands of school kids and continuing education classes out of small spaces that do work, but if we had a new facility, there [would be] much more potential for our education program.

What goes on behind the scenes to keep the grounds looking good?

Maintaining 14 acres of managed ground is lots of work. Think about your own yard and how much time it takes for just that. We have a crew of people who are just top notch with four full-time garden positions in addition to two or three interns from the Boise State horticulture program every year. But, truly, it could not be done without all the volunteers. We have a tremendous amount of support from volunteer groups, from scout groups, youth groups, women's groups, professional business people. We have behind-the-desk people who come out and help for a day, and it's thousands of hours of time over the year. Volunteering is an opportunity for those people who love to garden and maybe can't be totally responsible for one at home, but they still want to get their hands in the dirt. They can come here whenever it fits their schedule and get involved, especially as people move into downtown or into condos and don't have gardening space.

What's your favorite part of the Idaho Botanical Garden grounds?

I haven't seen it all in bloom so I'm sure this answer will change, but right now it's the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden, which is new and is still taking shape, but I love the fact that it takes you on a meandering tour into the foothills through different land areas—canyons, prairies, high alpine, desert communities—in one short, easy stroll you can wander through all those places with gorgeous views. It's a place where you can learn a lot. My other favorite is the rose garden. Roses take a special hand to care for and I've not been a rose person so I enjoy a rose garden.

I've lived in Boise nearly eight years, and I've never been to IBG. How do you get someone like me out to the gardens?

I think that is very typical. Even if [people] only come out for Great Garden Escape music ... at least we get them in and then we can try to get them to come back. Come out for one of our events, like the spring plant sale coming up on April 21. We encourage people to take in one of the events but to stop and smell the roses as long as they're here.