UW Botanic Gardens sow seeds for the future
State funds are a little less than 30 percent of the total income. Over the last three fiscal years about 25 percent of the state allocation has been eliminated. Volunteers are needed and appreciated.
Want to help?
If you're interested in volunteering for the UW Botanic Gardens, either at the Center for Urban Horticulture or the Washington Park Arboretum, email Linda Haba at email@example.com. If you'd like to volunteer as a Pacific Connections Steward, contact Rhonda Bush at RhondaBush@comcast.net.
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Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them. A columnist for The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine for the last 14 years and author of four books on gardening, she lives on Whidbey Island where she loves to hike, read and garden.
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MY HEAD spins whenever I think about all the changes at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture and the Washington Park Arboretum in the past few years.
After managing the Miller Library for nearly two decades, I would have thought I could answer the many questions from people concerned about the future of their beloved arboretum and hort center with its wetlands, herbarium, library, gardens and meeting rooms.
After all, the gardening community has been involved since the beginning. Plant lovers gave the money to build the center in the late 1980s, and donations helped rebuild Merrill Hall after eco-terrorists torched it in May 2001.
Even before the dramatic fire and subsequent FBI investigation, the center's relatively brief history as well as the longer history of the arboretum have been tumultuous.
Here's a shortlist of major changes over the past five years:
The center and arboretum, at two separate sites, are now jointly known as the University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG).
Sarah Reichard, former student in the program and internationally known invasive-plant specialist, was recently appointed director of UWBG.
Staff reductions and program cutbacks, like the loss of the International Seed Exchange, have hurt. Many staff members are now supported by gifts and endowments rather than state money. "State funds are a little under 30 percent of the total UWBG income," Reichard says, adding that "over the last three fiscal years we've lost about 25 percent of our state allocation."
UWBG is now part of the UW's new College of the Environment. It came into the new college still under the auspices of Forest Resources, which has been demoted from a college to a school and recently renamed the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.
Is your head spinning yet?
"We aren't the same place anymore," Reichard admits. "I'm focusing on managing our core functions, like education, the library and gardens."
While the budget situation may be grim, Reichard ticks off all the good things happening: "We're energized around the students," she says. More students of all ages are being brought into the arboretum for formal and informal education. Art and music students are using the grounds, and museology students are writing interpretations for exhibits.
The arboretum is moving forward on the long-running master plan, completing the renovation of Duck Bay and the Pinetum. And the new Pacific Connections gardens are well under way. "We're growing the plants now for the New Zealand garden that will open in spring of 2013," says Reichard. She hopes these new eco-geographic gardens will give visitors a sense of being transported to a Chilean forest or the highlands of New Zealand.
When will the new gardens have a real presence?
Reichard focuses on the goal rather than the timeline, saying, "We're planting for the next generation; the gardens need time to fill in."
In the meantime, the arboretum has 230 acres needing attention. Volunteers are being trained to help the staff with maintenance. Reichard is working to enhance visitor experience, including more and better interpretations that will include clearly marked loop trails and maybe even a coffee cart.
New at the horticulture center is a UW farm in collaboration with Seattle Tilth and a fresh emphasis on urban agricultural issues.
"People love the arboretum," Reichard says. "It's a magical place, and people want it to succeed." But with no good budget news from the state, all parties involved have come to accept that change is needed.
"The city of Seattle, the Arboretum Foundation and the university are all working together to build a more sustainable funding model for the future," Reichard says. "We have to be pragmatic because we have so few options."
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "The New Low-Maintenance Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.