On the final day of the American Public Gardens Association’s national conference in Disneyland I saw a friendly person wearing a conference name tag smile at me. I quickly introduced myself “Hi, I’m Cat Meholic….” Patting the seat next to her she responded brightly “I’m Melissa, I’m from Longwood Gardens.” Immediately, I felt that Melissa was engaged, and interested in what I had to say. I found myself impressed with how genuinely she loved her work and wanted to create fantastic experiences for Longwood’s members! It wasn’t long into the conversation that she shared her background in hospitality, but the joy that Melissa brings to her work is not something you can train, it is inherent in her personality. An example of this came at the end of our conversation when she handed me her business card and invited me to meet for coffee back home to continue our conversation.
It is with great delight that I got to continue that conversation over coffee, and Melissa even treated me to a pastry! Now, I am happy to share this Q&A, and a few of Melissa's favorite gardens, with all of the Women in Horticulture members. I hope you will be motivated to make your gardens as welcoming as Melissa Dietrich strives to make Longwood Gardens.
-Cat Meholic, Community Organizer for Women in Horticulture
WinH: What is your current role in horticulture?
MeDi: As the associate director of membership at Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, PA, I am responsible for overall program management to increase participation and retention, as well as enhance our members’ experience.
The success of the membership program relies heavily on every individual at Longwood. From the artful horticulture to the friendly and informative staff, innovative programs, and amazing features like the Main Fountain Garden, our members experience beautiful moments every time they visit. Our goals are to engage with our members on a deeper level, see them visit more often, and build lasting relationships with this wonderful community who are our most loyal advocates. I am thankful for my colleagues’ work and dedication.
WinH: What was your path to the Gardens?
MeDi: My journey is like most, a path that was created and enhanced by unique experiences (planned and unknown) and by friendships with a diverse group of professionals who have provided words of encouragement and inspiration when needed most. I actively reach out to fellow Garden colleagues, when we are exploring new ideas or in need of benchmarks. I also seize the opportunity when fellow Gardens colleagues reach out to me, making it a point to set a time to have a full discussion of their goals, so I may share the tactics we have implemented and more importantly the lessons we have learned. These conversations fuel me, inspire me to new and different possibilities of creating an extraordinary member experience. I invite you, if you are interested in learning more about Longwood’s membership program, then let’s connect, email@example.com.
[Photos Left to Right: Sherman Library and Gardens, Newport Beach, CA | Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO | Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ]
WinH: What are some steps to building a diverse group of professionals you can reach out to?
MeDi: First step: You are already doing it, by reading Women in Horticulture’s blog posts. These posts expand our shared mindset of the important roles women are achieving in our beautiful industry. I am thankful for co-founders: Cat Meholic and Rachel Burlington, who saw the need for a professional community and more importantly took action to build one.
Second step: Find small and large ways to reach out to internal colleagues outside of your current circle and externally with your peers.
My favorite questions to start a conversation with internal colleagues:
What are you working on that you have been excited about?
What program initiatives/display ideas are bubbling up for next season?
My favorite way to connect to external colleagues:
Pick a garden with a program or horticulture aspect that you admire. Find their general email address on their website and send them a note addressed to a specific team/department, share your appreciation of their achievement, and two follow-up questions to learn more. Our fellow garden colleagues are incredibly gracious with their knowledge and they understand the importance of sharing knowledge. When they reply with details to your questions, thank them and share something unique about your current program/initiative. A professional connection has been established.
Third Step, Repeat the Second Step two to four times a year.
[Photos Left to Right: Longwood Gardens, Kennet Square, PA | Lincoln Park Conservancy, Chicago, IL | Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, WA]
WinH: What are you working on that you have been excited about?
MeDi: We are proud of our loyal membership community of +65k member households built over the last several years. We are thankful the members provide us valuable feedback that can be used to enhance communications and streamline processes. One example is based on member feedback and volunteer focus group testing that we will put into action in the next few months. Our online access path for member benefits, such as complimentary guest tickets and member event registration will be streamlined by: listing user next steps and removal of any unnecessary links/buttons/redundant messaging. Once these changes are launched we will continue to review member feedback to see what additional tweaks can be made.
WinH: What is Longwood’s secret to growing a Membership Community?
MeDi: Members and guests are amazed at our beautiful horticultural displays and visit time and time again to see the changing Gardens. None of that would be possible without our horticultural staff and volunteers who are the real ROCK STARS of the Gardens and why members’ return. Members are amazed by not only the detail of a planting display or our fun illuminated fountain performances, but also the staff and volunteers that are dotted through the Gardens with the sole purpose of welcoming and engaging our guests by sharing interesting facts of a particular garden or simply taking a photo of them. This care and attention our members and guests’ experience make an undeniable impact on growing our membership by inviting new members to join and by keep surprising members who have been with us for years to renew. Our staff has an incredible amount of pride for what they do, sharing it with our members and guests is the magic of Longwood.
Melissa Dietrich's Professional Background:
Prior to joining the Longwood team, Melissa honed her skills at global hospitality firms: Brinker International and ARAMARK. She is active among membership colleagues through the American Public Gardens Association (APGA). Recently she was elected as Chair of the APGA’s Development & Membership Community, which provides a framework for fundraising and membership professionals in the public garden industry. She has a bachelor’s in food service management from Johnson & Wales University.
Many thanks to Melissa Dietrich for providing all of the photos and for coordinating with Longwood Gardens to participate in this Q&A!