Plant Lessons from the Desert
Photos & text by Beth Monroe, Public Relations and Marketing Director, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Last week I learned the three characteristics of a desert: 1) extreme temperatures; 2) less than 12 inches of precipitation annually; and 3) low humidity. My teacher was a volunteer in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ, and I was there attending the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) Evolution 2013 Conference.
With more than 750 attendees, this year’s conference brought together public garden professionals from around the U.S. and the globe. I was honored to be part of a delegation from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, including President & CEO Frank Robinson; Education Director Randee Humphrey and Horticulture Director Grace Chapman.
The week included five full days of sessions organized around tracks: horticulture, visitor experience, leadership, conservation, education, development, and public relations & marketing. In addition to attending sessions and taking copious notes, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden staff participated in other ways: Randee Humphrey was a chair responsible for the selection of proposals for the education track, Frank Robinson attended the Director’s Dinner, Grace Chapman participated in the Leadership Forum Breakfast, and I presented on a panel about “Garden Tourism.”
The conference’s theme “adapt, evolve and engage” and its desert setting were woven through the remarks of the keynote speakers, most notably retired United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She told of growing up in this harsh environment and how it had shaped and inspired her to overcome challenges and become the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. O’Connor pointed to the lessons desert plants can teach us: patience, perseverance, diversity and the ability to make the most of a little bit of “rain” (or opportunities.)
The final presentation of the conference addressed the topic “Conservation in Arid Lands” and featured representatives from gardens in Israel, Pakistan and Jordan. Already a weighty topic, the discussion took an even more serious tone as the panelists spoke about gardens as “islands of peace” in strife-ridden regions. They agreed plants “know no boundaries” and suggested perhaps humans could learn a thing or two from plants about co-existing.
The vision of the American Public Gardens Association is “a world where public gardens are indispensable.” The lessons I learned at the conference made this point well, underscoring that public gardens can be much like the life-giving rain that sustains us all.