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Botanical Gardens and the Urban Future

Posted On November 29, 2018 | 16:55 pm | by Press | Permalink
2018 Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium

The fall colloquium in Garden and Landscape Studies, organized with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden, brought together a group of historians, landscape designers, and scientists to discuss the past, present, and future of botanical gardens in the urban context. Traditionally invested with multiple agendas—medicinal, taxonomic, educational, and collecting—botanical gardens have proved a remarkably adaptable and resilient institution. Originating in early modern Europe as a response to the increasing influx of plants from Asia and the Americas, they were essential to preserving, propagating, and acclimatizing new varieties, but remained hard to assemble, susceptible to damage, and costly to maintain. In the course of their long history, botanical gardens have performed a variety of roles ranging from sources of materia medica to living taxonomies and instruments of colonial expansion, reflecting the importance of plants as objects of princely self-fashioning, scientific inquiry, and economic growth. Today, they continue to serve as sites of research, conservation, education, and recreation, retaining their character as both collections of living plants and public institutions, as well as historically significant, but constantly evolving, designed landscapes.

Speakers—who included scientists Peter Crane (Oak Spring Garden Foundation), Hans-Walter Lack (Botanical Garden of Berlin-Dahlem), and Gerda van Uffelen (Leiden University); historians Finola O’Kane (University College Dublin) and Emma Spary (University of Cambridge); and designers Sheila Brady (Oehme, van Sweden), Adriaan Geuze (West 8), and Mikyoung Kim (Mikyoung Kim Design)—addressed the continuing importance of botanical gardens from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Presentations covered an impressive range of topics, from university and colonial Dutch, British, and French botanical gardens to contemporary projects in New York, Chicago, Charlottesville, Houston, and Doha. While explaining diverse ways botanical gardens respond to and interact with their urban surroundings, the colloquium also highlighted the challenges they face today, such as growing financial pressures and the need for a more effective advocacy of plant diversity and environmental awareness in an age of advanced urbanization and climate change.