Parsons replaces Doug Davis as the executive director of the gardens, on Pine Mountain Road off of Cobb Parkway, and will be paid $68,000 a year, said Mayor Mark Mathews.
Parsons will be responsible for the overall leadership of the 16-acre botanical garden, which houses over 3,000 species of plants. She will also coordinate fundraising activities and be heavily involved in planning the future growth of the garden, according to a city news release. She will also serve as the liaison with the Smith Gilbert Gardens Foundation, a separate organization that works to fundraise for the gardens, according to the release.
Strong, Virginia roots
Just like her four siblings, Parsons attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education and master’s degree in horticulture, with a specialization in horticulture therapy, she said.
It was in school where Parsons first discovered a passion for healing people through plants, she said.
This passion has led her on numerous adventures around the world, the most recent at a garden in Coconut Grove, Florida, near Miami. Starting in 2009, Parsons served as the director of The Kampong, which is one of five gardens in the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. As director, Parsons said she oversaw a garden that included more than 50 varieties of mango plants and other exotic fruits.
Before working at The Kampong, Parsons worked as the director of education at the Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Va., from 1995 to 2008, and as the director of education at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami from 1987 to1995, she said. Parsons has designed and marketed children’s gardens and community projects at gardens all over the world, and hopes to work with residents of Kennesaw in the gardens here soon, she said.
At the Fairchild Gardens in Miami, Parsons oversaw the development of a 1-acre exhibit which depicted the power and destruction Hurricane Andrew had on the region’s wildlife, she said. After the storm, she said, the garden’s directors decided to leave many of the giant, overturned trees in place after the hurricane blew them over, as a way to let visitors examine the upturned root systems and branches.
Parsons also knows how to use plants as a way to connect with people and as a way to heal people. Before her jobs in Miami, she worked in a children’s hospital and a nursing home outside of Cleveland, Ohio, she said, where she witnessed the restorative properties of nature, and how it helped to heal many patients.
Young, old, sick or healthy, Parsons has worked with all types of people and gardens. She has experience writing grants, marketing, fundraising and designing, she said, all of which she will use in her new role in Kennesaw.
Too soon for specifics
Parsons has been on the job since Halloween, she said, and already enjoyed her interactions with the community, especially watching children and families get their hands dirty in the garden.
“For many children, they have never had that experience of digging in dirt, it is a great way to introduce children to nature, a connection they will have their whole life. I think that anything you can do to encourage that with families is great,” Parsons said.
While it is too soon to discuss specific plans for the future of the gardens and their financial stability, Parsons said that she hopes to draw more Kennesaw residents into the gardens on a more regular basis.
Parsons takes over a city-owned institution which cost $314,189 to operate last year, and brought in $173,000, according to the city’s 2014 approved budget. This year, the city has $379,274 budgeted for the gardens, and is anticipating making $180,260 from them.
Regardless of the finances of the garden, Parsons emphasized her plans to involve the city’s residents in many of the projects at the gardens, whether it be through more fundraisers, private events, field trips or themed programs.
She believes the Smith-Gilbert Gardens is already a great place, and noted its nationally-recognized rose garden and collection of Conifer pine trees, but hopes that with the support of the community, the garden will become even more impressive.
Already, the town has welcomed her with open arms, she said.
“It feels like home,” she said.