Volunteer Spotlight: Debbie Roth
Phipps is well-known for our beautiful gardens, seasonal flower shows, pioneering sustainability initiatives, informative educational programs and community outreach. None of our work, however, would be possible without the knowledge and dedication of our volunteers. In this series of profiles, we meet some of the people who give their time to make Phipps possible.
Many of our behind-the-scenes volunteers play a large role in the plants you see during your visit. Debbie Roth is one of our dedicated and meticulous-working volunteers, spending her time growing and tending the plants you see around the Conservatory and used in our favorite activities.
After living in Savannah for 10 years and sailing the Caribbean each winter, Debbie returned back to Pittsburgh, where she grew up as a child. She has always had a passion for plants, and after moving back she wanted to figure out what she could do with that. It’s a very different climate than the south so she decided to educate herself on plant life in Pittsburgh. She saw what Phipps had to offer and decided to take docent classes which lead her to eventually becoming a master gardener in 2014.
Having volunteered in the Discovery programs and the installation of various shows, Debbie found herself behind-the-scenes in Phipps’ greenhouse due to her great horticultural knowledge and her love for getting her hands dirty. In the greenhouse, her main duties are to prepare seedlings and seed starting. She will plant the seedlings for the pot-a-plant program, plant auctions, various events, the science education department and more. Debbie also propagates these tiny plants, which means separating or cutting off a piece of a plant and planting them in their own cell to grow faster.
Preparing seedlings can be a very tedious job. A lot of the plants have very small seeds, some the size of a grain of salt. From May to December of last year, she planted 8,751 cells, which doesn’t even include the number of seeds used since some cells need more than one! Although it’s a lot, Debbie doesn’t mind it. One of her favorite parts about being here at Phipps is coming in and seeing the progress that her plants have made. Seeing them grow and be healthy gives her a well-deserved sense of pride.
Although Debbie is in the greenhouse most of the time and doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with guests, she definitely enjoys it when she gets the chance. When talking with the guests, her ultimate goal is to help people and share her knowledge of the Conservatory. With children, she’ll make sure to point out the hidden marbles located in Palm Court. If she sees someone visiting alone, Debbie will take them through a couple of the rooms, giving them some background information on the various plants and the room itself.
Debbie’s skills and dedication has been a great asset to the volunteer team and to Phipps. Her knowledge, desire to get her hands dirty and her overall friendliness, has allowed her to enjoy her time here and continue her education in horticulture.
Photo © Paul g. Wiegman