From Childhood Backyard to Professional Workspace:
Varsha’s Return to Queens Botanical Garden
This month, we are spotlighting the story and work of Varsha Mathrani. Varsha joined the Garden as a Summer Associate with AmeriCorps in the summer of 2021 and is a part of the Horticulture, Bee, and Compost teams. Varsha’s childhood connections to the Garden guide her commitment to learning new skills, giving back to the community, and contributing to the sustainability of Queens.
Read on to learn more about Varsha’s inspiring story!
For Varsha, the Garden was her childhood backyard. Her father, Dr. Chander P. Mathrani, immersed his children and other children in his neighborhood in the explorative outdoors. Queens Botanical Garden, being a local urban oasis with a safe, large landscape for the community and with free year-round admission at the time, was the perfect destination. Because of this, Varsha visited the Garden often and has a multitude of childhood memories tied to it from childhood birthdays and picnics, to shared time and celebrations with neighbors, family, and friends. It was one of the many safe places she enjoyed with her siblings “running around on the grass, smelling or touching flowers and plants, or climbing trees.” She recalls chilly snow days spent sledding and tubing down the hills and learning how to ride a bike through the long winding pathways that once connected the Garden to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Varsha states that these childhood days “always felt really freeing,” days spent throughout the seasons creating fond memories she’ll always remember. Her father encapsulated both the beauty of Varsha’s family and the natural splendor of the Garden through his being and photographs. Varsha’s mother and her aunt, in the height of spring and summer, “wore colorful saris that matched the blooming flowers.” The photos are beautiful portraits, she says. For Varsha, Queens Botanical Garden holds a special place in her heart where lasting memories were made. The scenery and beauty of the Garden will forever live in the background of some of Varsha’s most endearing family photos.
During adulthood, after completing graduate school and obtaining a master’s degree, Varsha decided to return to the Garden to learn horticulture and composting skills and create lasting memories for other community members. Varsha has contributed to a multitude of programs at the Garden including Compost, Bee, and Horticulture. The pandemic pushed her to immerse herself in outdoor spaces and gain hands-on experience with outdoor work. Since volunteering, Varsha has reinforced her commitment to environmentally-conscious and sustainable behavior and has gained first-hand knowledge and experience about the positive impact compost has on a local level. She now believes in the importance of making demands of our institutions of power to commit to more scalable sustainable changes “in order to make universal and larger steps towards sustainability.”
Giving Back to the Community
Varsha chose to return to a space that she has always associated with beautiful and peaceful memories to give back to her community. This past summer, Varsha designed a coloring activity sheet for elementary-school children that can also educate adults.
Varsha describes the project: “It was all about decomposers, both macrobes and microbes, in the soil. These decomposers do all of the work to break down organic matter that contributes to nutrient cycling in our soil. They’re really important for plant growth and soil creation. I was able to create something informative while visiting one of my favorite parts of the Garden, the Woodland Path. I took photos of the Path and transformed them into sketches. It may also be translated into other languages to accommodate and educate a broader audience, while also being fun for kids.”
Queens Botanical Garden thanks Varsha for giving back to her community through her work at the Garden and we look forward to her continued contributions as she creates many more beautiful memories!
Written by: Tenay Fullerton
Photo credit: Vandana Mathrani, Dr. Chander P. Mathrani