In contrast with the main arboretum’s minimal signage, the terraced garden is dotted with placards describing the collection and plant maintenance. It also highlights species hardy enough to survive the increasingly erratic weather. This represents a significant broadening of the facility’s scientific and horticultural mission, a trend that can be seen in arboretums and botanical gardens throughout the the US. “In the 19th century arboretums were typically associated with universities. They did research and brought in exotics and adapted them to a given climate,” explains Steven Foster, a landscape architect in Brookline, Massachusetts, who teaches in the Arnold Arboretum’s Landscape Institute for professional designers. “Before middle-class, post-second-world-war subdivisions, there wasn’t a need for the average homeowner to learn about plants and landscape design.”
But today’s environment is quite different and arboretums and botanical gardens are responding, seeking wider audiences and acknowledging the eco-friendly movement by preaching sustainability, extolling the use of native and low-maintenance plants, teaching the fine points of composting and fostering urban gardens. They increasingly function as resources not just for scientists but also for professional designers, homeowners and community gardeners.
The Leventritt Garden was, for example, designed for minimal environmental impact and low maintenance, according to Douglas Reed, a principal with Reed Hilderbrand Associates, the Watertown, Massachusetts, landscape architecture firm that handled the project. “The primary purpose is for the curators to experiment with new introductions, compare new plants with other formerly developed species and have a way of bringing them to the public’s awareness,” he says.
Some institutions are investing in green buildings too. The Queens Botanical Garden in New York City last year opened a visitor centre, administrative building and maintenance facility boasting a green roof and water saving features. The new buildings add a deeper shade of green to the botanical garden’s community, college and professional development programmes, which include classes on composting and sustainable gardening, a seniors’ garden, a children’s programme and a farmers market, according to director of capital projects Jennifer Ward Souder. “Professionals come to get ideas and people inquire about native and drought tolerant plants,” she says.
The garden also banks native seeds and works on soil conservation and its demonstration plots include alternatives to conventional, chemical-intensive grasses and ornamental plantings. One goal is to help visitors choose the appropriate combinations. “They’re not always aligned – planting native species, using less water and designing sustainable gardens,” she says. “You don’t want to have people put stuff in the wrong place and wind up needing fertilisers or chemicals.”
In San Francisco, the California Horticultural Society maintains the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, which caters to a varied constituency, including landscape designers and their clients, community gardeners and city dwellers with little or no arable land (with classes on container gardening), according to executive director Michael McKechnie. It is also adding a centre for sustainable gardening and expanding its curriculum, which currently includes classes in garden design appropriate to local and regional climates and a certificate programme in permaculture, using and copying natural systems. “I have seen a great demand, almost a mandate, about environmental gardening,” says associate director of adult education Fred Bové as well as an interest in understanding and adapting to climate change. “The idea has come to the fore,” he says. “You can’t garden and not notice it.”
As institutions, arboretums and botanical gardens have to adapt to survive. “They are in the midst of searching to re-establish influence, an effort to create relevance,” says Ann Kearsley, principal of Ann Kearsley Design, a landscape architecture and urban design firm in Portland, Maine.
The design process behind Olmsted’s archetypal landscapes, for example, can be difficult for non-specialists to discern. “They look like they’ve been there for ever. His reinterpretation of 18th-century English gardens have morphed into spaces that are now so stately and gorgeous,” she says. “It can be difficult teasing out that they are completely constructed.”
Although landscaping clients have fairly conservative taste, designers can introduce them to progressive environmental and aesthetic ideas through the arboretums and botanical gardens that have added contemporary designs, demonstration plots and classes.
Kearsley praises these institutions for leading by example. “I come from a long line of gardeners and there’s a strong sense that you’re passing plants to the next generation,” she says. “Few residential projects are expected to last as long as 25 years. If you can afford to have a 40ft tree brought in, you don’t have to have this kind of respect for time. And people don’t stay in their houses that long. There’s not the same sense of stewardship.”
in Financial Times, 29 de Novembro de 2008, por Ted Smalley Bowen
FOTO: Arboreto do Jardim Botânico continua em grande parte adormecido para o papel que pode desempenhar na sociedade portuguesa.
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