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In bloom

Erin Anderson, Director of the Idaho Botanical Garden, Alumni profile, John Kelly photo.

By Brianne Phillips  |  Video by Matt Crook

Home to more than 400,000 plant species, stunning artworks, camps and classes for all ages, and 12 specialty horticultural collections and gardens, the Idaho Botanical Garden buzzes with life. Executive Director Erin Anderson said that the garden plays an essential role in building community, fostering connection and making nature accessible.

“Gardening helps us focus on the bigger picture,” Anderson said. “Being surrounded by the beauty of the space is invigorating. It’s a space where we can all come together for a greater cause.”

Anderson’s family encouraged her to go to college, but she lacked the guidance and understanding of how to make the most of her education, she said. It wasn’t until she became friends with Nate Peterson, president of the Associated Students of Boise State University, the official student government organization, that she found her own greater cause. Peterson convinced Anderson to bring her talents to the ASBSU as a work-study student. The camaraderie of her peers and the opportunity to defend shared views made her educational experience more meaningful, Anderson said.

“That really changed my direction because I met people who were serious about school and knew what they wanted to do. I hadn’t experienced that to that point.”

A passion for growing

Anderson found a passion for gardening education as her daughters began to grow and become curious about the fruits and vegetables they consumed.

“When my oldest daughter was young, we were in the grocery store and she asked me where broccoli came from,” Anderson said. From then on, food production became a family discussion topic.

In 2011, Anderson began working with the Boise Urban Garden School, also known as BUGS, as its executive director. The program, run by the City of Boise, teaches youth and adults the fundamentals of gardening through science, nutrition, and environmental-based lesson plans and activities.

“When the opportunity arose for me to work for an organization like BUGS, where I was able to put my passion to work, I jumped at it,” Anderson said.

For Anderson, the wonder and fascination that children feel in gardens is infectious. Their exploratory nature has indelibly shaped the way she learns, she said.

“Like those kids in the garden, hands-on learning provides me with the same sense of wonder,” Anderson said.

Keeping the community thriving

“Erin has dedicated her career to developing her community,” said Jaime Hansen, founder of JKH Consulting, LLC., and Anderson’s longtime colleague. “Through numerous missions such as women’s health, childhood education, access to nature and history, Erin has created a true impact in Idaho. She encompasses empathy, intelligence, and strategy into all decisions; an admirable trait in any leader.”

Since joining the Idaho Botanical Garden as executive director in 2016, Anderson has championed the importance of gardens as centers of community, education, environmental care and inspiration.

“Every year I see something new and different in the garden that I love,” Anderson said with a laugh.

Her favorite Idaho Botanical Garden event is the autumn Farm to Table meal. “It’s a small-scale event, so we have an opportunity to really connect with our guests. We work with great partners to bring out wonderful and amazing food – including ingredients from our own vegetable garden.”

During the pandemic and the social isolation it caused, Anderson led efforts to keep the garden open as a place of relief and comfort.

“We are very proud of our work in helping our community come together, feel a little less isolated, and through nature, reduce stress in a very stressful time,” Anderson said.