Stowe Garden lays off 80% of its staff due to COVID-19

Nearly two weeks after Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden closed its gates in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it has laid off 42 staff members, or about 80% of its workforce.

The garden, which turned 20 last year, had employed 51 people until this week. Now, it has a staff of nine.

Cuts were made in every department, from senior leaders to members of the custodial staff, said Executive Director Patrick Larkin. The horticulture staff has dropped from seven to two-and-a-half, he said.

If the garden remains closed through May, Larkin expects it will lose more than $500,000 in projected income from ticket sales and special events. And the losses will be even deeper, he said, due to memberships and donations that won’t be coming in.

Earlier this month, area residents looking for a fresh-air escape had flocked to the 110-acre garden in Gaston County in higher numbers than usual, Larkin said. But as social distancing rules began and the virus began to spread, leaders decided the responsible thing was to close.

“We were trying to do the right thing for everybody’s health,” Larkin said, “to add our voices to the chorus of voices to do the right thing about social distancing.”

Moving orchids

Now, the reduced staff will prioritize certain areas like the visitor pavilion, the White Garden that’s popular for weddings and the Four-Seasons lawn that’s often used for events.

Workers had to move hundreds of orchids from the 8,000-square-foot orchid pavilion to the garden’s greenhouse, so they could more easily care for them alongside the hundreds of tropical plants already in the greenhouse.

“It’s down to the bare bones of what’s needed to keep the garden running,” Larkin said.

It’s too early to say whether the planned Chinese Lantern Festival slated for the end of August will happen, Larkin said. The festival requires six months of production work, so an extended closure could force its postponement, he said.

Spring is an especially painful time to have to close the garden gates, Larkin said, because of the beauty that’s blooming across the property. Staff have been posting images on social media so the public can see inside, even if they can’t go there.

“Right now, the entrance to the visitor pavilion is phenomenal, filled with pansies and snapdragons and hyacinths. Out on the Four Seasons lawn, the tulip bulb display is amazing,” he said.

“It’s almost criminal that nobody is able to get out there and see it.”

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Cristina Bolling writes about Charlotte culture for The Charlotte Observer and most enjoys introducing readers to interesting people doing interesting things. She also covers topics ranging from the arts to immigration.

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