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Rain Garden Work Group

This role is now full for the 2024 season! Still interested in being part of the crew? Call or email us at 608-283-1612/ Spots do open up occasionally, and we would be happy to get you on the wait list.


Rain Gardeners take special care of our rain garden nestled within the Arctic Passage. With regular greetings from seals and our sandhill crane (Buckbeak), gardeners enjoy the great outdoors while bringing beauty to grounds. Even more importantly, they support our second largest browse garden by caring for several edible trees and hibiscus that go to feeding our animals. Finally, the rain garden also triples as a functioning song bird garden – supporting song birds in the wild with a safe habitat and edible plants.

This is a wonderful role for those with attention to detail who are looking for something a bit more removed from the direct interaction with guests that comes with other ongoing volunteer roles. Work under the guidance and supervision of our Horticulturalist, and join a small team of volunteers as you dig in the dirt – helping with weeding, mulching, raking and light landscaping.

“What’s a gardener’s favorite novel? War and Peas!”

Mary, Rain Garden Volunteer and Forever Jokester


  • Weed plants as assigned by the HVZ Horticulturalist
  • Lay mulch
  • Assist in seasonal plantings as needed
  • Collect browse as needed
  • Water as needed
  • Learn to identify over 100 native species of plants and weeds
  • Lend an artistic eye throughout the season
  • Maintain calm and optimism through even the driest dry spell
Volunteering For All

Rain Gardeners volunteer outside in mostly open sun (though, shade can present itself in the early mornings when the shadows are longer). The rain garden is located at the end of Arctic Passage next to the seal enclosure and Animal Health Center (AHC). The closest public restroom is in the center of the Zoo at the Glacier Grille. The terrain in the rain garden is very uneven with many dips and muddy spots. It is the quietest spot in the entire zoo – with the occasional exception of seal and crane calls.

*Our horticulturalist is comfortable with intermediate/advanced ASL. This would be an excellent opportunity for those in the DHH community who rely on sign language as a primary form of communication.

The rain garden requires attention to detail that would work well with someone who enjoys sitting in one place and hyper-fixating on one task at a time. We have many tiny weeds that will only be defeated by tenaciously pulling them up by the roots. Because most of the work will be weeding, this is excellent for someone who thrives on consistency.

Requirements & Skills
  • At least 18 years of age
    • Possible consideration for 16+ with a parent/guardian
  • Strong gardening background
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Able to easily switch between sitting and standing
  • Able to work independently with little supervision
  • Able to hear and process verbal instructions

Time Commitment

9hrs/mo: Rain Gardeners commit to a weekly shift with a minimum of x3 shifts/mo between Late April and the end of September.

Weeding is the name of the game for Rain Gardeners. Weeds grow substantially faster in this type of environment. While there will be other projects, expect consistency throughout the season.


All of these trainings are available as refreshers at any point upon request. Optional trainings allow you to try out other roles as shifts become available. They do not add to your minimum requirements (i.e. training in on another role doesn’t require you to add another set of weekly shifts). Training spots are limited; however, we will schedule more throughout the summer as interest and time allows.

  • Online
    • Volunteer Expectations (15-20min)
    • Introduction to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (20min)
    • Volunteer Software Basics (5-10min)
    • Basics of Zoo Horticulture, Safety & Expectations (20min)
  • In-Person
    • Onsite orientation (1hr) – Meet other volunteers and HVZ Staff, tour of the Zoo and rain garden, find toolshed & compost bin
  • Optional
    • Henry the Lion/Handler – (Must be at least 14+) – Learn how to tell a story, don the lion/handler costume and get practice in costume on grounds
    • Train/Carousel – (Must be at least 18+) – Basic ride operation, safety protocols and guest training
    • Goat Yard – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – Learn to open & close, operate and educate at the goat yard
    • Empathy/Interpretation – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – ZOOM – Learn basic docent skills & practice empathy language. This training in particular will NOT allow you to pick up Wildlife Champion shifts. However, it will provide you with valuable interpretation and empathy-building skills that are useful in a variety of roles.
    • Gate Greeter – (Must be at least 10-13 w/ parent/guardian, or 14+) – Take a small tour of the Zoo going over important buildings, entries and guest protocol.

Weather Policy

Henry Vilas Zoo is open regardless of weather. While we remain open, we trust our Rain Gardeners to decide whether or not they would like to volunteer in light precipitation, cold/hot temperatures, etc. The volunteer is in charge of scheduling a make-up shift in the event they choose to stay home due to weather.

In the event of truly inclement weather, we will call volunteers to cancel. In this case, volunteers do not need to make up their cancelled shift.