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NM Association Of Museums Names ‘Penstemon Whisperer’ Larry Deaven Volunteer Of The Year

on October 20, 2019 - 8:35am

Larry Deaven, center, is honored as Volunteer of the Year by the New Mexico Association of Museums for his work in the penstemon gardens at the Los Alamos Nature Center. PEEC staff gathered Sept. 24 at the awards event with Deaven, from left, Marketing Manager Rachel Landman, Executive Director Katie Bruell, Deaven, Director of Interpretation Jonathan Creel and Adventure Programs Manager Beth Cortright. Courtesy/PEEC

PEEC volunteer Larry Deaven, a.k.a. ‘The Penstemon Whisperer’, has been growing penstemons for more than 40 years and began gardening in 2015 at the Los Alamos Nature Center. He received a special projects grant from the American Penstemon Society in 2016 to help support garden construction. The penstemon gardens at the nature center is now contain the largest in the world with more than 2,000 plants including representatives from 100 different species and upwards of 60 subspecies, color forms or hybrids. Courtesy/PEEC
PEEC News:
Visitors who stop by the Los Alamos Nature Center early almost any morning except in the middle of winter will find Larry Deaven quietly watering, planting, weeding, assessing and photographing more than 2,600 penstemon plants all over the grounds.
Deaven averages 120 to 150 volunteer hours per month for the Pajarito Environmental Education Center. His dedication to the organization led the PEEC staff to nominate him for the New Mexico Association of Museums Volunteer of the Year Award, which he won Sept. 24.
“We are so very lucky to have Larry on our nature center team, not just because of the flowers, but because he is a kind, thoughtful and wonderful person to be around,” PEEC Executive Director Katie Bruell said in her speech at the awards dinner. “We couldn’t be more pleased to have him recognized by the New Mexico Association of Museums as the Volunteer of the Year.”
Deaven, a retired scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratory, approached PEEC about planting a few penstemons in the unused areas around the parking lot of the nature center shortly after the building opened. Now, the grounds host the largest penstemon garden in the world with seeds Deaven collects by hand from his plants at the nature center, on trips all over the country and sometimes internationally.
When asked why he planted a large garden with plants from only one genus, Deaven said, “I wanted to plant a penstemon garden because these plants are drought tolerant, do not require fertilizer, can thrive on our native soils and because they have incredibly beautiful flowers. They are Native American plants that have not been given enough attention by our greenhouse industry.”
His gardens bring a steady stream of visitors to the nature center who come specifically to see the plants and buy seeds from the gift shop. He was featured in this June’s edition of New Mexico Magazine in an article called “The Penstemon Whisperer,” which also is what his volunteer nametag says.
“There’s no doubt that the penstemon garden has increased our visitation,” Bruell said in her nomination letter. “Larry has hugely increased the beauty and the draw of the nature center, and has created a gem that is unique in our state and region.”
The Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) was founded in 2000 to serve the community of Los Alamos. It offers people of all ages a way to enrich their lives by strengthening their connections to our canyons, mesas, mountains, and skies. PEEC operates the Los Alamos Nature Center at 2600 Canyon Road, holds regular programs and events, and hosts a number of interest groups from birding to hiking to butterfly watching. PEEC activities are open to everyone; however, members receive exclusive benefits such as discounts on programs and merchandise. Annual memberships start at $35. To learn more, visit