Monday, August 9, 2010

State Of Botanical Gardens A Red Flag

Botanical gardens aren’t just looking for gardeners to come visit them these days. They’re looking for people who go to art museums and zoos.

So says Pat Matheson, the executive director of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, who’s quoted in a New York Times story last month in which author Judith H. Dobrzynski explores how botanical gardens across the United States are pulling the reins back on gardening and looking for new ways to attract visitors.

Gardening is, of course, still a primary draw of botanical gardens. But botanical garden directors are turning to food festivals, concerts and sculptures to draw crowds that used to visit solely for the showcase of flowers.

Times change, though.

“There’s a generation that will be less interested in gardens, but that generation is incredibly interested in what’s happening with the planet,” Daniel J. Stark, executive director of the public gardens association told The New York Times. “Recently, my own two daughters, and a friend, were reading me the riot act about cutting down some trees.”

Shockingly, Stark’s daughters are 4 and 8. And if they already care enough to preserve trees, our industry needs to be front and center explaining to them why gardening is just as vital.

The same should be the case for our nation’s botanical gardens. Food festivals and concerts shouldn’t be the primary motivation for visiting them. Plants should be the primary purpose, while events add value to the botanical garden experience.

Unfortunately, we have work to do to convince next generations gardening is worth the effort and our botanical gardens are worth a visit. The two go hand in hand, of course. So let the state of our botanical gardens serve as yet another reminder that gardening, in general, needs a boost.


  1. Very observant comment. Also, I think garden centers are expected to be like botanical gardens. I do hope that the swing back toward an interest in plants is coming.

  2. Until such times as horticulturists involved in ornamental horticulture see themselves as artists comparable to painters and musicians, we can not expect the hoi polloi to do so.

    The sheer diversity of plants alone requires intellectual input, yet horticulture is always presented as something for those people who are unable to do anything else, have criminal tendencies that need correction or are retired.

    If botanic gardens feel the need to count cars in the car park and to provide fun fares to achieve that aim, we have no hope of anything better.

  3. Dr. Hammett,

    Where did you arrive at the conclusion that horticulture is presented as something for the "underclass"? I have NEVER in thirty years in the industry heard that remark from a customer, client or visitor to a botanical garden or garden center!

    As a matter of fact, I hear nothing but admiration from the "hoi polloi" for those of us who are professional horticulturists and can work our magic with plants, whether it be in outdoor gardens, interiorscapes, botanical gardens, whatever. Perhaps you are being unduly harsh in your remarks...there may be a jaded younger generation that is perceived as disinterested in gardening at this juncture, but that happens with almost EVERY "younger generation", until they become established in their careers, buy homes in the suburbs and begin to embrace the land. Urban yuppies have historically disdained gardening as an avocation, until they move up and out of the city. Keep the faith!

  4. I recall attending carillon concerts at the Chicago Bontanical Gardens 25 years ago and they still have them weekly during the summer months. They've also had food related festival and art shows for years. Not a new way for them to breath life back into the gardens more like a smart way of extending an invitation to an extension of gardening.

  5. Well Anonymous, unless things are very different in the country in which you operate, to the situation here in New Zealand, Australia and other countries with which I am familiar, the levels of remuneration alone, bears testimony to our status.

    Similarly, national honours are seldom achieved by horticulturists or plant scientists. Plenty of sports people and captains of other industries, however.

    Wendy, how often is a flower show used to entice people to attend sports events or concerts?

    We need to ask ourselves why the skills and knowledge regarding cooking have received such high status in popular culture, while our wider and more extensive skills and knowledge are simply not acknowledged.

    How many celebrity gardeners or botanists can we stack up against the army of celebrity chefs that appear 24/7 on TV around the world?