Erin Anderson takes history, community to heart in new role at the Idaho Botanical Garden

Erin Anderson started as the new executive director of Idaho Botanical Garden in September.
Erin Anderson started as the new executive director of Idaho Botanical Garden in September.

In the early days of Idaho and Boise, the land on which the Idaho Botanical Garden now thrives was “No. 2 Yard” of the territorial prison. The prison’s worn sandstone wall now frames the edge of the garden. The garden itself is more than 30 years old, created by a group of Boiseans who decided the city needed a place to promote horticulture, botany and conservation.

Erin Anderson, a Boise native, takes all of that history and community to heart as the garden’s new executive director.

“The garden offers such an amazing space for looking at the beauty of the Treasure Valley. Our native gardens that are there, the youth garden, the vegetable garden. It instills a sense of place.”

She sees marks of history and community throughout the garden — the petrified log donated from an Idaho property, a koi pond and a pair of sibling koi to live in it, donated by a local family.

Anderson comes to the garden from her post as executive director of the Boise Urban Garden School and Foothills Learning Center under the city of Boise, where she oversaw eight city community gardens. She spoke at Boise’s 2016 TEDx Talks on the power of gardens to promote children’s health. Her work with the city included leading education programs for adults as well as children.

“Gardening appeals to every age group in a different way, but that sense of wonder that comes from planting and nourishing something is still there. It’s awe-inspiring,” said Anderson.

In years to come, Anderson will oversee the garden’s completion of its master plan. Some parts are in place, such as an education center that opened over the summer. Some are works in progress, such as a multi-use building with more space for year-round education programs and events.

Of late, she’s worked with a design team and horticultural staffers to landscape the grounds near the education center in anticipation of a grand opening.

“We’re in the process of finalizing the ‘flush fund,’ a campaign to install permanent, flushable toilets. We’re digging sewer line. ... It’s very sexy,” she quipped.

The garden, like any nonprofit, faces challenges, including fundraising.

“I look at that as an opportunity,” said Anderson, “also ensuring the Treasure Valley knows about the programs and services that take place behind the walls.”

Anderson might face other challenges if the city goes ahead with its proposed concert series at Ann Morrison Park. That could compete with the garden’s Outlaw Field Concert Series.

“Our primary concern at Idaho Botanical Garden is our sustainability,” said Anderson. “Funding from the Outlaw Field Concert Series directly supports the education programs and services we offer in the community. Funds that we rely on to keep our garden gates open, our horticulture staff employed, and our class fees low.”

Anderson said she’s not against competition but looks forward to opening a larger conversation in the community about the idea and its possible impact on neighborhoods and nonprofits.

Even with all of this, Anderson has had the time to savor her new role.

“The garden has such a strong reputation of success and a sense of love in the community. ... My hat’s off to those who have worked so hard here for 30 years. Looking at photographs from where the garden was, to where it is now, is amazing, knowing it’s self-funded, not associated with the city or a large university. There are so many more opportunities in the garden in the next three, five, 15 years.”

What do you do for fun to relieve stress?

I live near the Foothills and walk and run there often. I can practically walk out my front door and feel like I am miles away from the daily grind. It’s a great opportunity to turn off my brain, get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors.

Where do you like to take out-of-town guests to show off Boise’s charms?

I’d start with lunch Downtown; we have so many great restaurants to choose from. Then we could get in a little shopping at BoDo and check out a few of the new stores that have recently opened Downtown. I would definitely end the day at the Idaho Botanical Garden exploring our grounds. There is no better view of the garden and the city than standing at the top of our Lewis and Clark garden.

What three movies would you most like to watch on a long flight?

“The Brave Little Toaster,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Gladiator.”

Do you have a mentor?

I am a part of a group of women that meet each month. There are about 16 of us, from doctors and lawyers to writers, Realtors and nonprofit leaders. We have conversations and mini-self-lead workshops about our personal and professional development. These women are my mentors. When I feel stuck in a challenge I am working to resolve, I reach out to this group for direction, support or to get a new perspective. It is an inspiring group of women that I feel lucky to be a part of.

Who would be your favorite dinner guest?

I am the president of the Junior League of Boise. We are a women’s leadership and volunteer organization. The Junior League was founded by Mary Harriman, at the age of 19 in New York City. She dedicated her life to social reform and services. To talk with Harriman and hear of her successes first-hand would be inspiring.

What motto do you live by?

Less is more. Last year I read the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It changed the way I think about everything. If I could say yes to everyone and everything, I would. But then I find myself spread too thin, and I stop enjoying my free time, my projects and my work. Now, I try to focus on a few top priorities but give them more attention so that I can make a better impact.

What is on your bedside reading table?

I read a lot. Right now, on my bedside table I have a few books. My favorite book that I am reading is one from the “Frog and Toad” series. Growing up, I loved reading this series with my mom. Now, I am able to read them with my youngest daughter and we get a kick out of Frog and Toad’s relationship and many adventures. Personally, I just finished “Beautiful Ruins: A Novel” (by Spokane author Jess Walters). It is an easy, fun read, a bit of a love story that begins in a small coastal town in Italy. Typically, I also keep a stack of management or leadership development books close at hand, too.

What’s on your playlist?

I have two daughters, ages 10 and 12, so we listen to a lot of music that is popular on the radio in our home. But, when I have the choice, it’s Wilco, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Chainsmokers, Tom Petty, Alabama Shakes and Amy Winehouse, to name a few.

Are you a dog or a cat person? Wine or beer?

Dog or cat, too hard to decide. I don’t believe that you need to choose one camp or the other. I love both, equally. But when it comes to wine or beer, easy decision. Wine. I am partial to red and to trying our local flavors.

Annuals or perennials?

Perennials are a good metaphor for our garden. Each year they grow stronger, fuller and more beautiful, just like Idaho Botanical Garden.

Anna Webb is a Boise native who writes about the community, local news and history for the Idaho Statesman.

Idaho Botanical Garden 20th annual Winter Garden aGlow

This popular community event is also one of the Idaho Botanical Garden’s most significant fundraisers.

When: Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, to New Year’s Day, Thursday, Jan. 1. Open holidays, rain, shine or snow from 6-9:30 p.m. with last admissions at 8:45 p.m.

Winter Garden aGlow is open for all holidays. It will be closed Nov. 29-Dec. 1, for exclusive parties.

Tickets and pricing: Sunday-Thursday — $8/adults, $4/kids ages 5-12 (4 and under free) and $4/Garden members.

Friday-Saturday — $10/adults, $6/kids ages 5-12 (4 and under free) and $6/Garden members.

Carpool Monday: $25 for up to 6 people

Military discount: $1 off (with valid ID)

Become a new member in December at the $60 household level or higher, and you’ll also get four Winter Garden aGlow tickets.

Tickets available at the gate or can be purchased in advance at the Garden office or online.

Other details: Santa will be on hand every weekend in December leading up to Christmas — Fridays to Mondays — and sometimes he might be joined by Prancer. Santa visits are free with admission; professional photos are available.

There will also be plenty of live music and holiday treats, as well as the Holiday Express G-scale replicas of steam and diesel trains in the English Garden on special nights in December and, of course, the Holiday Garden Gift Store.

For more information, call 343-8649, or go to

Holiday parties are available for businesses or groups who wish to rent a tent or the greenhouse for private parties. Bring your own refreshments or hire a caterer. Call for information.

Visit the Idaho Botanical Garden

The garden is at 2355 Old Penitentiary Road in Boise. Information: 343-8649 and The garden is open year-round. Call to check seasonal schedules, discounts and special rates. Admission is free for garden members or $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and young people ages 5-12. Children 4 and under get into the garden free. The garden also offers “Stroll for the Heart and Soul” from 7:30 to 9 a.m. May through September with free admission. The garden also hosts many classes and popular community events. See a schedule online.