Get Involved
About Us
Our Members

ABC’s 2022 Volunteer of the Year: Lisa Lachs

By Connor YearsleyLisa Lachs

The American Botanical Council (ABC) recognizes Lisa Lachs as its 2022 volunteer of the year. Almost every Monday since September 2021, Lachs has come to ABC’s headquarters at the historic 2.5-acre Case Mill Homestead in East Austin to work in the organization’s gardens.

“I am honored to be chosen as ABC’s volunteer of the year,” Lachs said (oral communication, December 9, 2022). “I think it’s awesome.”

Lachs grew up in New York and has lived in Austin for the past 13 years, which she has spent raising three daughters, who are 13, 10, and 7. She has a master’s degree in herbal medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health, is a nutrition coach, and volunteers at her daughters’ elementary and middle schools. “We also have a six-month-old puppy, so I spend a lot of time trying to train him,” she said.

Lachs also has a gardening certificate through the New York Botanical Garden, has worked on many organic and biodynamic vegetable farms in New York and Maryland, and was a community horticulturist for the Horticultural Society of New York in New York City.

“I have known about ABC since I was in graduate school for herbal medicine,” Lachs said. “When we moved to Austin, I was very excited that ABC is based here because I had heard about it for so long. However, when we moved here, my oldest [daughter] was just two months old, so I did not have a lot of time to volunteer. So, when my youngest was in first grade and we were past COVID enough and I knew she would be in school, I had a little bit more time. I was looking for a COVID-safe volunteer opportunity. Being outdoors and gardening is about as COVID-safe as it comes.”

Lachs also has her own garden, but she admitted that moving to Texas has made her a beginner again. “Being from the Northeast, gardening is really different here [in Texas], so my kids and I experiment a lot, fail a lot, and succeed a little bit,” she said. “We have the easiest time with things like mint. And now, with the new puppy, he likes to dig up and munch on everything, so that has been its own challenge.”

For Lachs, one nice thing about working in ABC’s garden is “there is a lot less pressure at the garden at ABC, since they have everything under control, and I can just come in and help and learn. I appreciate the learning aspect. For me, I know a lot about herbs from an herbal medicine point of view, and we had a small herb garden at my graduate school, but it is amazing for me to actually see the plants and see them grow and be with them. That is one other thing I like about it.”

Because Lachs has volunteered at ABC for more than one year, she has now seen the entire growing cycle once. “I am reminded that one thing I really like about gardening is that it puts everything into context,” Lachs said. “When I cut back the grapevines and see how they grow in the spring, it puts everything into context for me, so I really enjoy seeing the plants and seeing them change. Even week to week, there is such difference in the garden.”

Lachs said she would “absolutely” recommend this experience to others. “There are certain parts of gardening that some people do not enjoy, like weeding,” she said. “But I know it is just part of it, and I’m able to see the bigger picture. I like that weeding is really concrete. It looks really messy, then you spend a couple hours, and then it looks really neat. I like putting in the work and seeing the effort and effects of that.”

For Lachs, volunteering at ABC has reminded her of how much she loves gardening. “I find gardening rewarding and therapeutic,” she said. “I had taken a little bit of a break and failed so much in my own garden that it is nice to have someone else steering the ship.”

Lachs has enjoyed bringing her daughters to the gardens when they are not in school, and she plans to continue to volunteer at ABC for as long as she can. “I think it has been really good for me to get to the garden as a way to slow down and be present with what I’m doing,” she said. “Instead of running through my to-do list, I am able to just be there, working on what I’m doing in the moment, knowing that it will make a difference to the garden in the long run…. It is just a really nice place to spend time. It is quiet and calm, and I really enjoy that about it.”

At the time of this writing (December 2022), Lachs has logged more than 75 hours volunteering in ABC’s gardens. ABC has not named a volunteer of the year since Daniel Elliott in 2019.1

“Lisa was one of our first volunteers after COVID-19 shutdowns, so I was and am happy to have her, considering her background at the New York Botanical Garden,” said Toby Bernal, ABC’s head gardener who has supervised Lachs. “It is always a treat to know that I can relay info on a garden project and she will be up to the task. When she came to ABC, I included her in the task of propagating plants from cuttings and root divisions. Every plant we sold in spring 2022 had Lisa’s hand on it. In the time that I have known her, I have been introduced to her family, offered and received parenting advice, and talked to her about Jewish comedy and cultural customs. But the most important thing is that she has become my friend.”

Gayle Engels, ABC’s special projects director, added: “Volunteers like Lisa come along only every once in a while. Not only is she a knowledgeable gardener and a cheerful and interesting work companion for Toby, but to keep coming back for so long on a regular basis is unusual and a great benefit to the organization. Without volunteers who have Lisa’s commitment, it would be much more difficult for Toby to keep ABC’s gardens the beautiful destination that they are.”

Information about volunteer opportunities at ABC is available at

Image credit:

Lisa Lachs working in the ABC greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Gayle Engels.


  1. Yearsley C. ABC’s Volunteer of the Year: Daniel Elliott. HerbalGram. 2019;123:21. Available at: Accessed December 15, 2022.