If you’ve attended a tour of one of the Capital Trees projects, volunteered at a community workday, or otherwise been around for a bit — you’ve probably seen Susan Robertson one time or another. But if you’re not properly acquainted, we’re excited for you to get to know her in this format. Susan is one of the original Founders of our organization, long before it was a formal nonprofit, and has lended our organization her leadership and development skills time and again. Get to know Susan, her past and present involvement with Capital Trees, and her take on our growth and next steps — all in our interview with her below.
Q. How long have you been involved with Capital Trees?
A. I was fortunate to be the president of my garden club when Capital Trees was created in 2010 as a joint project of the four Richmond Garden Club of Virginia clubs. As a landscape designer with a strong commitment to the Richmond community, Capital Trees has allowed me to marry many of my interests and stay involved in the exciting growth of Richmond as a fantastic place to live, work, and raise a family.
Q. What is your position with Capital Trees?
A. I am currently a Board Member and the Chair of the Projects Committee. I had the pleasure of serving as Capital Trees second Board Chair from 2017- 2019.
Q. Why did you take on that position? What have you been most surprised by?
A. I agreed to serve as the Projects Committee Chair to help the Board and staff continue to pursue opportunities to expand Capital Trees mission and vision serving more members of our community.
Q. How have you seen the organization evolve?
A. Watching the evolution has been a pure joy for me. As members of garden clubs, we knew the benefits that access to the natural world provided to us as individuals. We wanted to share this passion and our expertise with a broader community. We also knew from our association that access leads to knowledge and knowledge leads to better stewardship. Not only do humans benefit, but if done correctly we share these benefits with our shared ecosystem.
In 2010, our passion and advocacy for green space in the Richmond community was not as accepted as it is today. The research supporting the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature really evolved in the 2010s and was codified by the Covid pandemic. Teamwork between the public and private sectors is now working together in a way that we did not envision in our early days. Today, we are realizing the real power behind public/private partnerships and that feels so full of potential!
Q. What Capital Trees contribution or project are you most proud of?
A. Capital Trees work from Great Shiplock Park to the Low Line Green transformed a very historic stretch of Richmond’s waterfront from a neglected, desolate gateway into the City that was full of invasive species into a beautiful and active public greenspace that is ecologically thriving. And it is Capital Trees’ commitment to ongoing care that keeps our work an appreciating asset for the community.
Q. What should more people know about Capital Trees?
A. Our education and outreach program has been one of the greatest additions to our work. By engaging the community in the care of our projects we accomplish numerous objectives. Most obviously, these committed volunteers keep the gardens looking great for visitors and take pride and ownership in their work. They also become ambassadors for Capital Trees and share our commitment to sustainable gardening practices with others. As our projects grow, I believe growth of our volunteer corps will have an exponential impact leveraging this knowledge, passion and commitment: connecting to each other through nature and building a stronger and more resilient community. There is nothing more democratic than our public green spaces.
Q. What is Capital Trees biggest need?
A. I will wear my development hat now and say our biggest need from our inception to now is funding! Our projects are open 24/7 to everyone free of charge. But these projects cost money to design, install and maintain. Capital Trees staff is fantastic but very lean. The Board continues to roll up their sleeves and contribute where needed in their areas of expertise. But for Capital Trees to remain a leading advocate and partner in creating and maintaining public landscape and design for our community, we need a stronger and longer commitment from our funding community — both private and public.
Q. What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
A. There are a lot of opportunities for Capital Trees to expand our geographic footprint in the Richmond community. One project that we should be able to celebrate in the next year is the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Richmond’s new pocket park at their East End Teen Center on Nine Mile Road. Capital Trees has acted as an advisor to help BGCMR plan this community park in an area of Richmond that has long been void of trees and outdoor community green space.
Q. How do you foresee the organization transforming in the coming years?
A. Capital Trees will have to be smart and strategic about our growth. Through our success at the Low Line, opportunities and requests for partnerships and collaborations have been increasing. All this requires capacity, and we are a small organization with a big heart. Sustainability is as important to an organization as it is to the environment and the only way we can continue to build, maintain and educate our community about the value of increased access to nature is to do so in a thoughtful and deliberate way with a strong commitment from the greater community.
Q. What’s your favorite plant/plot/project of Capital Trees?
A. My favorite plant is amsonia hubrichtii – from its beautiful blue flowers in the spring to its feathery movements in a breeze to its stunning yellow color in the fall, it creates three seasons of interest — and it is native to boot!