Modern botanic gardens: How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare?
*** Click any of the smaller photos to see them full size.***
By Barb Gorges
I’ve become a connoisseur of botanic gardens the last five years. Everywhere we travel I’ve found at least one. How does the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compare, now that it has acquired a conservatory? What makes a modern botanic garden?
The roots of botanic gardens come from ancient royalty, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and medieval monastery gardens for study and propagation of medicinal plants. The roots of major botanic gardens today are similar, often former estates of the wealthy or associated with universities, but also built, like ours, with community support.
The American Public Gardens Association, of which the CBG is a member, requires members are:
–Open to the public at least part-time
–Have aesthetic display, educational display and/or site research
–Maintain plant records
–Have one professional staff member, paid or unpaid
–Provide visitors ways to identify plants via labels, maps, etc.
The association’s definition doesn’t say it, but refreshing the public’s soul is an important outcome.
The six gardens I visited last fall fit the definition in very different ways, but have much in common with each other and our local botanic gardens.
Longwood Gardens water garden, fountain display and conservatory. Photos by Barb Gorges.
Longwood Gardens, https://longwoodgardens.org, outside Philadelphia, was Pierre du Pont’s personal garden started in 1907 with a 600-foot flower bed. Today it has 1,083 acres, including the 4-acre conservatory of plant exhibits, 1,300 employees and volunteers, and 1.5 million visitors annually. Longwood has all the additional components of a modern botanic garden: special events including concerts and classes; volunteer, internship and membership programs; and plant research and conservation work.
Modern gardens also have sustainability programs. Longwood has a 10-acre solar field and composting and integrated pest management programs although the Flower Walk beds were bordered by little white signs: “Danger, Pesticides! Keep Out.” It might be expected of a garden founded by a past president of the duPont chemical company.
On a much smaller scale, the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, https://www.buffalogardens.com/, is set in a city park, as is our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Inside the graceful glass domes of its Victorian-era conservatory, the theme is recreating habitats from around the world which share the degree of longitude passing through Buffalo, New York.
The garden was opened in 1900 by horticulturally-minded citizens, including Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York City’s Central Park. Its magazine advertises educational, volunteer and membership opportunities.
The Cornell Botanic Gardens, www.cornellbotanicgardens.com, part of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, comes from academic roots, but it also qualifies as aesthetically pleasing. It too has members, volunteers and a calendar of cultural and educational events.
Educational components include:
–The bioswale garden absorbing and purifying water from the parking lot.
–The visitor center’s green roof covered in succulents (the CBG also has a green roof).
–The Climate Change Garden comparing growth on otherwise identical hot and cool plots.
–And like our botanic gardens, a website full of information.
Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens rose garden (left) and butterfly habitat and pavilion (right). Photos by Barb Gorges.
However, in Ontario, Canada, the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, https://www.niagaraparks.com/visit/nature-garden/botanical-gardens-2, is more of a tourist attraction. It has the aesthetics and plant labels, but I found no membership or volunteer information. It is home to the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture, where students sign up for a 36-month regimen of labor and coursework.
Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve includes woodland, meadow and wetland habitat, attracting birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.
A better example of a modern botanic garden was Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve https://bhwp.org/, near New Hope, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1934 at the junction of woods, meadows and wetlands, it offers a nursery full of native plants for sale and advertises membership, volunteer and educational programs.
Churchville Nature Center has a wildlife garden demonstrating how to landscape for wildlife: shrubs, trees, flowers and water features. Wild turkeys dropped by. Photo by Barb Gorges.
My favorite garden this trip was the wildlife garden at the Churchville Nature Center, https://www.churchvillenaturecenter.org, outside Philadelphia. Even though the center is municipally-owned like the CBG, there are, like our botanic gardens, membership, volunteer and educational opportunities.
Our own Cheyenne Botanic Gardens compares well with all these gardens: we have an informative website for local gardeners, https://www.botanic.org/, and educational programming including a strong children’s program. The CBG has free admission, even now with the brand-new conservatory, because its city parks-funded budget is augmented by strong membership and volunteer programs.
One unique aspect of the CBG’s mission I didn’t see at any of the gardens I visited is the commitment to service and therapy: “Provides meaningful opportunities for seniors, handicapped and youth-at-risk volunteers who are essential in growing the Gardens.”
With the new conservatory building that opened last summer, the CBG can do even more to fulfill its mission. And you can help. I’ll let you in on two secrets.
One is that if you become a member, there is a reciprocity agreement that allows you to visit many other gardens for free, including the Denver Botanic Gardens. Of course, I spend my savings in the gift shops.
The second secret is that being a garden volunteer is fun. It is something you can’t easily enjoy at faraway gardens, but you can right here at home.