It’s no secret that time spent in nature is a health benefit that enhances a person’s quality of life as a place of respite, recreation, education and exploration. Yet, many may be unaware of the existence of public gardens as an inviting space for this occurrence.
However, MaryLynn Mack, an industry trailblazer and a leading voice in public gardens as a place for all, aims to spread the word as the newly appointed chief operating officer of South Coast Botanic Garden.
The 87-acre expanse is located on Crenshaw Blvd., at the base of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and is a mere 19 miles south of the Crenshaw District. Mack joins the nonprofit after 14 years of service as director of operations for Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona.
There, she successfully managed daily operations for a nature space that welcomed over 380,000 visitors annually and helped to grow its operating budget from $2 million to $22 million.
Mack expanded and enhanced programs for children, adults and educators that include new digital curricula, a multi-lingual audio tour, and the innovative Volunteer U program, a national model that recruits, retains, and recognizes volunteers. She also led the development and construction of a destination restaurant, parking and event plaza, an expanded renovated retail space and a DNA research lab.
Yet, what Mack is highly passionate about is introducing people especially young emerging professionals to the public garden world as a lucrative career choice. “I’m excited to be in a bigger position in a larger market to shape change, and aims to take every opportunity to educate others about public gardens,” she said.
Mack believes there is great power in building bridges and marshaling relationships to achieve ultimate success. To this end, she sits on the American Public Gardens Association’s Board of Directors, and is the inaugural chair of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Committee. She is slated to facilitate the IDEA Café, a Diversity Forum at the Association’s 2019 Annual Conference in June.
“I cherish the breakthroughs of all pioneers of color who stared down adversity and broke down barriers to gain a seat at the table,” said Mack. “I want others to embrace inclusiveness in our increasingly diverse society. To me, Black History Month is a great opportunity to highlight accomplishments, yet it’s only one piece of a bigger responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion year-round.
“Also, I believe the current generation is unapologetically seeking justice and equity for all human beings, and I want to continue to work toward bridging the gap of understanding and a collective way forward toward positive change,” she noted.
Beyond this, Mack is working to remake the image of public gardens as a place of belonging for all. South Coast Botanic Garden currently offers a robust school visit program, which includes a partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District.
For many of the students, the outing is their first nature experience and interaction with 2,500+ species of plant and local wildlife that call South Coast Botanic Garden home. Individuals, families, seniors, church groups, Moms clubs, floral and horticulture societies, and other organizations frequent the Garden for its unique biodiversity and health rewards.
“I’m excited to be a welcoming presence for broader community engagement and a force for change within the industry,” she said.