The library is the perfect place to explore the written word. Priceless works of art, from paintings by Picasso and O’Keefe to photographic prints created by Weston or Mapplethorpe, are available for a personal viewing at the art museum. The natural history museum reveals the size and impact of gigantic whales and grizzly bears, as well as delicate hummingbird eggs, gossamer butterflies, and other jewel-like insects. Zoos, of course, house all of the animals that one would be foolish to try and encounter on their home turf. But where can one experience the exotic wonders of the vegetable world? Why, at a botanic garden or other public space dedicated to displaying and preserving plants.
These living museums offer space, time, and energy to the long-term care of living entities that most people don’t normally notice. Often people see plants only as a backdrop to the rest of life. So public gardens — like city and county parks, historic landscapes, and botanic gardens — engage in an uphill challenge to enlighten and educate folks about the importance of plants in the cycle of life. Plants have made most of the life on Earth a possibility; without them, there would be no air to breathe and no food to eat. When people learn to value plants at a garden, they can then transfer that care and concern to the rest of the natural world. To preserve individual species and their habitats, public gardens have committed to saving and interpreting landscapes as an art museum displays a priceless painting or a library loans its book collection.
Horticulturists working at public gardens have experience and direct knowledge about the specific conditions where they are tending plants. Public gardens then can also become sources of information for other gardeners about how to grow plants in a particular area. Classes and workshops are often a part of the curricula that public gardens provide their communities. Go visit a garden and explore the wonderful world of plants. (See this week’s cover story for more on public gardens.)