Want to be GREEN? Promote Gardening

I recently read an annual report for a botanical garden entitled Hope for Healing the Planet. Among other things I learned that they were embarking on a new strategic plan. Over the last twenty years botanical gardens and arboreta have evolved to the point where they are faced with redefining their purpose. I recall a conversation with Peter Ashton, the Director of the Arnold Arboretum, in which he explained that his most daunting task was justifying the Arboretum to Harvard in an age of molecular biology. Since that conversation, I have watched with interest as public gardens have evolved to redefine their relevance.

What is botanical garden’s greatest asset? Why do people visit? Why do they become members? What do we do best? These are the questions to be asked during the strategic planning process. Do the visitors come to see the rose garden, the children’s garden, the home idea gardens, the prairie, or is it they’re intrigued by their conservation efforts?

You know the answer – they come because the botanic garden is an oasis of breathtaking beauty in an urban jungle. The garden inspires; it reveals the beauty of plant diversity, and give us ideas and hope that plants and people can coexist, and shows us that life is enhanced when we are surrounded by a diversity of plants.

And now in this time of Sustainability and Green, the clear need, the necessary message, and the great opportunity being neglected is that plants and gardens need to be at the core of the Green movement. But why plant tree seedlings in a distant forest as carbon offsets when we need to be planting trees, shrubs, perennials in our cities and yards; close to the sources of carbon and pollution, and where people can actually be healed by the power of plants?

I would encourage everyone to champion gardening as a green lifestyle. A year ago, standing on top of a hotel in Nagoya, Japan I was saddened by the prospect of concrete to the distant horizon. What a contrast to Chicago which is a beacon of green to all other cities in its devotion to plants and gardens. What a unique time and place we are in to promote the healing power of plants by planting our own yards and neighborhoods! Change happens locally.

What can we do to promote the healing power of plants and plant diversity at a local level? Encourage people to grow plants in their yard then expand to their neighborhoods and city. I know a man that loves to collect trees and shrubs, but he quickly ran out of yard space. He asked his neighbor if he could plant some of his trees and shrubs on his property and the neighbor agreed. Soon this yard was filled with new species of plants so the man went to another neighbor and did the same. Today his entire neighborhood is a beautiful, mapped and labeled botanical garden accessible to all. While in Korea a man told me the native species of White Forsythia, Abeliophyllum distichum was endangered, and that as a conservation effort the government made is illegal to grow or sell. He was in awe when I told him we sell about 5,000 a year and that people actually plant it in their yards.

While I commend botanical gardens and garden writers for picking up the banner of global warming, invasive plants, habitat conservation, etc., I question whether this should be our main role. If it is Conservation that makes a botanic Garden relevant and defines its purpose (as the annual report I read suggested) then why do they waste the time and money maintaining a garden?

Many of you reading this blog have the knowledge and voice to promote gardening as way for everyone to heal the planet. I urge that you keep this at the center of your personal mission statement. Something to consider as you revise your personal strategic plan. Share this with a friend and ask them to comment.


  1. Anonymous10:37 PM

    Interesting point of view. I agree that promoting gardening is an attainable way for urban and suburbanites to improve the environment. Think of how much pollution is prevented and gas is saved just by growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing vegetables trucked in from a far away farm. This is not to mention the oxygen generated and the beneficial insects and birds supported by the plants.

  2. Anonymous1:38 PM

    Hey Tim: I enjoyed this piece. I have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, and agree with you wholeheartedly. I believe gardens are searching for relevancy, and that leads them to invest millons in children's gardens, art displays, etc. I also believe the emphasis on "conservation" is a part of that search for relevancy. Yes, gardens and arboreta can play a role in global plant conservation, but frankly, I believe our efforts in conservation are best served by encouraging preservation of habitat, which is what the Nature Conservancy does so well on a national/international basis, and what Land Conservancy groups do at the local level. My belief, as you articulated, is that botanical gardens and arboreta, through their collections, should celebrate the beauty and diversity of the plant world, and inspire, educate, and encourage guests to participate in the joy of gardening. The mission statement of the JCRA is simple, and I believe articulates this well. Our new Master Plan is entitled "It's All About the Plants". Here at NCSU, we are fortunate that the arboretum is a great resource for the academic programs of NCSU, and is used by undergraduates for many classes, and by graduate students in various disciplines. Our simple mission statement is below for your purusal. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated.

    Take care,

    JC Raulston Arboretum Mission Statement

    The JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University promotes responsible, inspirational design and management of cultivated landscapes through plant development and evaluation, as well as academic and public education.

    Strategic goals:

    1. Provide creative research and educational programs for students, the green industry, and the public in an effort to improve the American landscape.

    2. Function as a living laboratory which resides in and complements the curricula of NC State University.

    3. Collect and evaluate plants for their potential ornamental value and landscape use.

    4. Develop improved ornamental plants through controlled breeding, evaluation, and selection.

    5. Provide visitors with an inspirational and educational experience, and an opportunity to connect to the natural world.

  3. hi Tim -- I just stumbled on to your website, and I couldn't agree more w/ this: "the botanic garden is an oasis of breathtaking beauty in an urban jungle" -- Oh yeah! Chicago Botanic Garden comes to mind, as the greatest, greenest place in the endless suburbs of that town (altho I know Chicago itself is greener than some cities). But on a purely practical level, I think gardening/re-greening and even reforestation of derelict areas in cities is not being paid nearly the kind of attention it should as a relatively inexpensive way of combating global warming.

    And thanks for the post (Nov 07) on the JC Raulston arboretum -- I am in NC outer banks right now, and looking forward to a first visit in a few days! best -- emily / www.michigangarden.blogspot.com

  4. I too promote gardening in my community. I give talks to area garden clubs, the Arb, and MetroParks, as well as plants groups,such as the Hosta Soceity. Green spaces have a healing aspect, not only on the environment, but on the human spirit. Hospital patients who have a green space outside their window take less pain meds and are released, on average, 2 days sooner than patients who have to look out on a plain wall or mechical equipment. My challenge to my audience is ' plant a tree or two'. Claudia


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