An Interview with our Head Tour Guide, Denise Young

Interviewed by Joan Kupfer – Vice President of the SGVBG Board of Directors

How long have you been volunteering at the garden?

I started volunteering at the garden in 2008, so this is the 13th year!

Did you start as a tour guide?

Yes I started as a tour guide.  Nothing in my background would make that an obvious choice for me.  I knew I wanted to volunteer at the garden, so when I saw an ad for tour guide training I thought it might be worth a try.  it was neither a natural nor an obvious choice for me since I have never felt comfortable with public speaking.  I wanted to try though, and here I am 13 years later.  It turned our to be much more fun than I expected.  I think that I am proof that anyone can do this with some preparation and practice and also find it enjoyable.

If you had to pick one spot in the garden to be your favorite what would it be?

Well, of course I love the entire garden so it is difficult to name one spot.  I think it has to be the bromeliad garden and the small area that overlooks it.  It is beautiful, quiet spot with many interesting and lovely plants to see in a small area.  I can’t leave out the orchid house though, and I very much look forward to watching the new orchid area as it develops.

After giving so many tours what do you think the average tourist enjoys seeing in the garden?

I think that most visitors coming to the garden have no idea what to expect.  We know that some of the visitors from the cruise ships choose the excursion only because we are linked to the rum factory tours.  It is very satisfying to see the surprise and appreciation from those guests when they discover how much they enjoy learning about the garden and our history.  Even the guests who are interested in and experienced at visiting botanical gardens can be very surprised by how much they learn about our interesting plant collection and our historical human relationship with the plants.  An experienced, knowledgeable guide can easily engage all of the guests.

How many tours do you think you have volunteered to guide over the past 13 years?

Just as a guess, probably somewhere around 500

What do you think the most liked spot in the garden is for our visitors?

This one is difficult.  I don’t often hear guests mention a favorite area.  What I do hear at the end of a tour is how much they love the natural setting and park like atmosphere.  With a nod to modesty, I also have to say that our guides do an amazing job of making the visit interesting regardless of which parts of the garden they see in the limited time they have.

Where in the world did the most far away traveler you have encountered come from to visit the garden?

I don’t always know where the guests are from.  I have had visitors from Denmark, Germany and France.  I have seen guests from the Philippines and Asia who have emigrated to the US.  

(These people are familiar with many of our plants and delight in encountering them! )  One of the most interesting, to me, was from North Macedonia ( a cruise ship employee) 

If you had to guess what state in the US sends us the most visitors?

Hard to say since I often don’t know what states they are from.  Many are from Florida and other states on the east coast.

What would you say to someone that is thinking of getting involved volunteering at the garden as a tour guide?

I would say try it!  Come out and watch us work and get some background.  We enjoy training new guides and welcome anyone who wants to try it.  Don’t be intimidated or think you have to know everything before you can lead a group.  Even our most experienced guides don’t know all there is to know about the garden itself or the plants.  We learn continually.  Always remember, the guests are there because they WANT to hear what you can tell them and anything you do will be interesting.  Come join us and have some fun!  It is very rewarding!

If you like what you read please consider joining the tour guide team at the Garden.  Contact Becca Hughson for more information at

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