Ian's Bits & Bobs: The Blog

Chihuly Glass

It Takes a Garden

I was with an industry group in Columbus, Ohio last week touring the very impressive Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, talking with Bill Dawson, who runs the beautiful 80-acre downtown site. (Industry veterans may recall Ameriflora on that site in 1992 which is how Bill got involved in the first place.) I remember I loved the inspiration of Ameriflora,  America’s one (and only, thus far) attempt to have a 6 month long European-style garden festival, so I was inspired again 20 years later by Bill’s current work.

Bill is especially passionate about their 5-acre Community Garden Campus, built with donations and lovingly tended by his team and a whole flock of community volunteers. I was amazed to hear that the greater Columbus metro area (population 2 million) has around 250 community gardens with 12 major “hub” gardens around the area.

Everyone in the garden business should plan a visit there to see how the local community has become a true partner in the use and direction of the whole park.  Set in mature botanical parkland in what was a run-down part of the city, the huge Victorian Greenhouse gets immediate attention – but this place has so much more.

From exquisite Dale Chihuly glass to stunning Aurora Robson art from recycled plastic bottles (the current temporary exhibition), there is a lot to see, but from our point of view the 5 acre Community Garden Campus (sponsored by Scotts Miracle-Gro) is the place to focus on.  This place has the expected Community Garden plots plus a rain garden, pollinator garden (and a thriving educational bee exhibit), tai chi garden, fruit, vegetables, herbs together with every educational tool imaginable from composting to an indoor cooking theater. They even have 5 types of outdoor cooking “fires” to learn about and use. Locals often just bring their dinner in with them to hang out enjoying the summer evenings: there’s no fence around this garden.

The Fall events schedule lists a dizzying range of things to do:  from environmental behind-the-scenes tours to craft workshops and cooking classes. Locals are involved at every stage and every minute — it’s their park. That, and generous corporate and private funding, is the secret to such a vibrant place.

Being the local garden products company (with almost 150 years in nearby Marysville, Ohio), Scotts have supported this horticultural gem for a long time, but recently the community garden became a model and rallying cry for a very-welcome corporate goal to “grow the gardening category”. As the biggest player (by far) in the L&G industry, Scotts can really punch their weight – so when they get behind a movement like community gardens we should all take note, and see how we can ride the wave. Through the magic of Google I see that Scotts have announced a goal of “1000 Community gardens in North America and Europe by 2018,” the 150th  anniversary of their company. This initiative has already been adopted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, while Scotts have created a generous grant fund for the purpose of helping start-ups.

As a public company, Scotts have staked a flag in a long-term initiative that would at first sight seem at odds with the usual Wall Street short-term expectations, but their vision is to be applauded and all companies in the L&G business should lend support, however small, to this “Grow The Category” mantra. We all know that “different days” are coming, if not already here, and this would be a great way for any garden business to walk the talk.

So the obvious question of this posting is: What are you doing to encourage, create, expand, train, support, lead and become synonymous with local community gardens in your market area?  Let’s hear it!

Thanks for tuning in!

(photo credit: Allen Conant)

Sep 24, 2012 5 Comments