How to Start a Botanical Garden in Your Town

A botanical garden can enhance your town by providing a welcome respite in the midst of a bustling city center or an educational gathering spot in a sleepy, rural area. For a public garden, you'll need to find a location that offers more than good drainage and sunshine. You will have to follow sound botanical garden design guidelines, ask others who have planned botanical gardens for their advice and navigate whatever hurdles you encounter. Getting involved in a beautification project shows that your business cares about the town and believes in investing in it.

Planning With Your Team

Assemble a small group of enthusiastic people — with or without horticultural knowledge — who will enhance the planning process by adding their unique expertise. For example, one has marketing abilities, another has connections to town officials, one has had success fundraising, one has the financial expertise to manage the budget and one has the botanical knowledge to spearhead the horticultural aspects of planning. Together, you'll need to create a strategic plan that includes your mission or purpose, the benefits of having a botanical garden in the town, a budget and a timeline for each step in the process of bringing the garden to life.

Reach out to your community, including local universities' biology, agriculture and architectural design departments and those conducting research who could relate to your garden. Incorporate principles of ecological stewardship considering concerns and resources in the area. Review gardens that team members admire — visit local ones if possible — and ask for advice, problems encountered along the way and tips on any aspect of the process. Invite gardeners in the area to offer their ideas and become involved.

Designate one person, preferably an additional team member without another major role, to communicate progress to the group and keep everyone on track. Begin considering who will construct the garden. Volunteers can do the planting, but excavation and placement of structures will require experts with the proper equipment and experience.

Funding Your Botanical Garden

In addition to your business, think about potential sponsors who might provide donations and/or resources (e.g., a local printer to donate printed materials). Put the word out early in the planning process that you're looking for donations to fund the garden, for costs like preparing the ground, building the structures and buying the plants. The American Public Gardens Association lists grants that are available to help fund public gardens with stipulations; some require that they are educational or contain herbs, for example. You can also have a donation box or charge admission to pay for the garden's upkeep.

Following Botanical Garden Design Guidelines

The types of plantings and the garden's purpose differentiate a botanical garden from other public gardens. For instance, part of a botanical garden's purpose is to research, study and inform. As people walk through the garden, signs note each plant's biological and common names, origin, care, benefits and perhaps some little-known information.

An arboretum may have identifying markers too, but its focus is trees. Although there is no certifying organization that approves botanical garden designs, the American Public Gardens Association asks that its member botanical gardens follow specific botanical garden design guidelines:

  • Be open to the public even on a limited basis
  • Have an aesthetic, educational and/or research purpose
  • Keep records of plants
  • Have at least one paid or unpaid staff member
  • Help visitors identify plants through informative markers or maps

Consider what elements you want to replicate from gardens the team has viewed. Will you have benches for resting and reflecting, low tree stumps or a playful path to engage children? Will your path be circular or offer choices of directions to take? On a bench or on a separate sign, post the names of those who sponsored the garden, including your business.

Bringing the Garden to Life

With everyone in agreement on next steps, team members can simultaneously work on their roles. Your team member with connections to town officials should find out the regulations for establishing a public garden, if the city owns space that could be considered for it, the costs for permits, land, etc. and if the city will donate space, workers or other resources.

Each expert should work closely with the others so they augment and not duplicate each other's efforts. For example, fundraising events will draw more people if they are well marketed or promoted. Once you have an illustrated design of the garden, the marketing expert may announce, promote and host a public event explaining the garden's purpose and benefits, showcasing its design, indicating how people can get involved or donate and signing up volunteers to help with any step.

Recruit volunteers to make finger foods and baked goods for public meetings/events and for the garden's grand opening. Light food and drinks entice people coming from work to stop in. Other volunteers may want to help with planting and upkeep of the garden.

Opening Your Masterpiece to the Public

When the garden is nearing completion, select a grand opening date (and rain date) and begin planning and publicizing the event, being sure to mention the sponsors in all materials. Line up a few speakers, including town officials such as the mayor, a council member or someone instrumental to the project.

Stage a ribbon-cutting ceremony, invite local media and position knowledgeable people throughout the garden to explain why specific plants were chosen and how botanical garden design guidelines were used throughout the planning of your town's new masterpiece. After the excitement of the grand opening has passed, you can host marketing events at the botanical garden you helped create.

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About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.