More Than Plants
Designing botanical gardens requires creating a template base design which can be modified through time. Outdoor plant museums are built to display theme gardens and plant collections. Whatever your design, it will be changed over and over again to be relevant and entertaining. The most important thing in botanical garden landscape design is a good underlying structure for circulation which works well with the surrounding building structures and traffic flow. People like to see something new each time they visit, so your template must anticipate future changes, particularly in the plant beds close to walkways.
You can incorporate classroom space in the site plan. The purpose of a botanical garden is horticultural education and a dazzling display of nature’s beauty. Labeling plants and providing context in signage is important. Botanical garden visitors get frustrated with poorly-labeled or mislabeled plant material. Displays will change often, and the labels need to be updated, so include this on-going expense as part of the maintenance work plan and budget. The plants will be the teachers in an outdoor classroom, but easy-to-read plant labels and signage introduce the visitors to the plants and engage them in the learning process.
Any maintenance plan for a botanical garden should also include a budget for constant replacement of plant beds and infill planting for inevitable bare spots. Just as in the fashion industry, plant species go in and out of favor. A botanical garden includes the latest trend in plants, and new arrivals eventually become food for the compost bin. Rather than tossing out used plants, try repotting and selling them. A used-plant-sales area can be included in your garden design to help fund the purchase of new plants, or repotted plants can be given as gifts to garden volunteers. Botanical gardens are dynamic, seasonal display areas. Without a steady stream of new revenue, they will decline, which will reduce the number of visitors and reduce the available budget. New bed designs are an essential part of the life of the garden.
Year-round activities keep a botanical garden healthy. Try to encourage all sorts of classes, club meetings, special events, contests, and fundraisers. Gatherings don’t have to be plant-related. You need traffic for a botanical garden to survive, maybe even more than you need funding. The gardens should act as an active community center, complete with a kitchen, banquet area seating, and tables. Even if it is all outdoors, the botanical garden space is ideal for get-togethers. Your garden design should accommodate at least one special celebratory event every month.
Provide a grade change or other physical separation between pedestrian traffic and plant beds if possible. This helps prevent damage to the plants. Circulation can bring people visibly close without tempting visitors to step inside the plant beds. Raised planters, boardwalks, hanging gardens, water gardens, and gardens behind glass can provide drama as well as practical pedestrian/bed separation. Fences with “Keep Off the Grass” signs lack imagination. Use your creative design skills and create elevation excitement as a way to protect plant displays.
Outdoor lighting is a way to open the gardens to a larger visitor market. With new LED options and programmable effects, you can transform the garden spaces for evening use. Up lighting can highlight tree trunks. Down lighting can produce beautiful, leafy silhouettes. Lighting for signage could provide after-hours educational displays. Safety lighting can emphasize stairs and pathways. With a clever lighting plan, the night-owl exhibit could become a favorite for visitors.
Garden structure and excellent circulation planning are essential to the design of a botanical garden. Event and entertainment planning are important, too. A botanical garden can succeed if it has changing beauty and plays a solid role as part of local community celebrations and events. A good landscape designer can create a botanical garden which is a must-see destination for visitors year-round.