Posted in Professional Development

APGA Conference Miami 6-10 June

Changing Perspectives: Planting for the Future

A report on the American Public Gardens Association Conference

Miami, USA, 6 – 10 June 2016. 

By Sharon Willoughby


The American Public Gardens Association (APGA) is the peak organisation for Botanic and Public Gardens in the US (formerly the ABGA).  In 2016 APGA and BGANZ established a formal partnership.   Apart from the many benefits of connecting likeminded organisation and networks this new relationship will provide a conference registration scholarship, which will allow one member from each organisation to attend the reciprocal organisations annual conference without paying the conference registration fee.  To cement this new partnership APGA invited me to attend and speak about the role of socially inclusive practice in a modern Botanic Garden at their international section dinner.  My attendance was supported by BGANZ Council, BGANZ (Vic), RBGV and self-funding.  Eamonn Flanagan the Executive Officer of BGANZ also attended the Conference.

Conferences can be great networking opportunities and this conference was no exception with a big emphasis on meeting everyone and the open sharing of practice and ideas. This in itself was a huge undertaking with 750 people attending from 575 gardens.  As well as a printed guide book there was a conference app to help delegates work out which parallel session to attend from the 6 themes that ran across the week:  The Living Landscape, Education and Science, Making Friends and Making Money, Climate Change and Sustainability, Collecting and Conserving and Planting for the Future.

As well as Eamonn and I the Australian contingent was augmented by Fran Jackson, who has recently graduated from the Longwood Fellowship Program and Stephen Halliday, horticulturalist, from the Living Museums Sydney.

Big take home thoughts:

  • I was really impressed by the Climate Change and Sustainability thread that ran so strongly through the Conference, with Florida Gardens such as Montgomery Botanical Centre already experiencing salt­water inundation due to climate change, issues of global change both in terms of mitigating garden impacts and community education are firmly on the agenda. Hitting GSPC targets is a clear and often repeated goal.
  • More and more North American Gardens are making considerable income from illumination festivals.
  • Fundraising efforts are focused on millennial donors.
  • Interpretation of agricultural systems and their impacts on human health a growth area in interpretation and exhibitions.

Please remember that BGANZ has a free APGA Conference Registration each year when planning your professional development.  APGA 2017 will take place at Hamilton Botanic Gardens, Canada, which is situated between Toronto and Niagara Falls (a scenic 6 hour drive from New York).  Next year it could be you!

Conference impressions

Saturday 4 June 2016 – Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens

I visited Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens the Gardens responsible for the remarkable Fairchild Challenge Education model.

Fern gully in Fairchild Garden hosting display called Orchid Odyssey. Orchids plug planted or wired to trees.  Interpretation a little too light on.

  • Using QR codes on brochures and signs.
  • Conversion of Central Lawn into Parking Field to cope with peak visitation on festival days such as the Mango Festival.
  • Tram Tours free with entry – v. similar to RBGV tours.

Sunday 5 June 2016 – The Everglades

Visited the Everglades, I saw an amazing diversity of plants and one alligator.  A fascinating and complex ecosystem being threatened by urbanisation and clearing for Agriculture.  One of the places on the planet already suffering the ill effects of climate change.  Essentially the Everglades and the aquifer that it charges is the drinking and watering water for Miami and all the associated gardens.

Monday 6 June 2016 – International Dinner and Talk

Visited The Kampong one of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s campuses.  Heritage collection for Southeast Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean.  Ethnobotanical interpretation as well as stories about Fairchild and his plant collection practices.

Delivered talk Making Space for Conservation – Exploring Socially Inclusive Partnerships.  Great feedback.

Notes from International Garden Section:

  • Jerusalem Botanic Garden rebranding to down play strong scientific message and increase social messages. JBG building an Environmental and Social Hub (like Ross House in the CBD Melbourne) then giving space to local green organisations to use as office space.  Attracting a great deal of philanthropic support to garden.
  • Ari Novy from USBG and Tara Moreau UBC spoke about Agriculture and the Future of Food in the role of BGs.
    • New focus on bringing the story of agriculture and food production to the fore in interpretation planning. Could be an important role for grass land area at Cranbourne especially if tied to bushfood production.
    • “All sectors of society need to lean about agriculture and sustainability – and there is no time like the present given the public’s growing interest in gardening, food, and urban agriculture. With the decrease in plant science education at colleges and universities nationwide, botanical and horticultural organizations have become crucial centres for botanical education.  Accordingly, they are ideally equipped to display and interpret agriculture and crop food plants, and are well-suited to initiate public discourse about the growing need to produce more food to feed the human population”.
    • See Paper Expanding the role of botanical gardens in the future of food, Miller et al 2015.
    • Adult education opportunities in Urban Agriculture and Waterwise Urban Agriculture working well for Chicago, UBC and Queens Botanic Gardens.
    • Food programing booming income stream in many BGs.

Tuesday 7 June 2016 – Day 2

Notes from:  Whither Conservation?  The Nation’s Largest Collaborative Botanic Gardens Networks united to Empower Conservation for all.

Notes from:  International Gardens Section Meeting

  • 2017 is the UN International Year of Green Tourism.

Notes from:  Visualizing a Garden’s Night Potential with Light

  • 20% of Chicago’s annual visitation now comes in of a night time. Chicago BG runs a 12 week program of open evenings focused on music during the week and weddings on a weekend. Initial capital outlay for lighting was paid for by sponsorship.
  • Many US gardens now opening their gardens for evening illumination festivals.
  • Missouri and Montreal BG contractor now working with Taronga Park Zoo in Australia. June Koek, Director, Lanternfest Creative, (confirming that Missouri send $3 million US to mount display and grossed $6 million US).
  • Other approach is to use lighting designers rather than lantern festival artists see Oak Island Creative,

Wednesday 8 June 2016 – Day 3

Notes from Garden Tourism and Public Garden Collaborations

  • Canadian Botanic Gardens have joined together to create a National Touring Map and Regional Touring Map. This has been shown to increase visitation and is something that BGANZ could easily facilitate in Australia.

Notes from New Perspectives on Garden Tourism: Building a Sustainable Visitor Base.

  • North American Gardens are one of the fastest growing sectors of cultural attractions.

Thursday 9 June 2016 – Day 4 Vizcaya Villa

Notes from Climate is changing collections management

  • Group aware off and discussing Melbourne’s Succession Planning Strategy.
  • Montgomery Botanical Centre is already suffering from salt water inundation as sea levels rise.
  • American Gardens are yet to embrace translocation of species – appear to be more interested in GMO engineering of plants to survive climate change.

 Notes from Shifting Horizons: Avant-Garde Perspectives in Adult Education

  • Adult colouring in classes big hit at many gardens. Gardens using materials from herbariums to create colouring in sheets as new revenue streams.
  • Night photography classes during lantern festivals proving to be a big hit.
  • Chicago had more success promoting programs when they are all branded around an element of wellness.
  • Full-Moon Garden Explorer Tours (worth costing out at Melbourne and Cranbourne).

Notes from Food and Agriculture Professional Section

  • Worth considering the role of bush food production and the history of agriculture in the southern grassland area at Cranbourne.

Explored Vizcaya Villa that evening

Friday 10 June 2016 – Day 5 Fruit and Spice Park

Visited Preston B. Bird and Mary Heinlein Fruit and Spice Park

  • Visitors allowed to eat any fallen fruit in the park. Amazing collection of tropical trees.  Great way to learn about Florida agriculture and the importance of plants to life.

Saturday 11 June 2016 – New York

 Sunday 12 June 2016 – New York Botanic Gardens

  • Visited American Impressionists exhibit. Centred around a Glasshouse display recreating the look of an American Impressionist painting.  Ten paintings on display in the herbarium.  Poetry on display in gardens on large easels.
  • Very similar in approach to the Monet Exhibition held at NGV. Could have planted an area at Melbourne Gardens or highlighted Nymphaea Lake if there were the resources.
  • Most pristine garden I’ve ever seen – maybe a little alienating.






Sharon Willoughby Manager Public Programs, Cranbourne Gardens Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria Twitter: @ swilloster

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