On Tuesday afternoon, August 2, Congresswoman Lois Capps presented the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden with a federal grant of nearly $150,000, which she handed to Garden officials in the form of a giant check. The money comes from the 2010 Museum of America granting program, which operates under the aegis of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

With the money, the Garden will develop a plant-mapping project that uses geographical information system (GIS) technology. The grant (beginning next month and dispersed over the next two years) helps to usher in the Garden’s phase of re-growth and recovery from the devastating effects wrought by the Jesusita Fire.

The grant absorbs 46 percent of a total project cost of $321,698, which will be incurred in staff salary, consultant fees, supplies and materials, and other costs, according to a press release release. “These are very competitive grants, and also very prestigious,” said Nancy Johnson, VP Marketing and Government Relations. “What sets us apart is that we’re always thinking of better ways to serve the public and manage the collection…We’re very innovative.”

The event was small, attended by about fifteen staff members and press, but its modesty never betrayed the importance of good news for the Garden, whose moral has been tethered to the recession and the fire. But from the destruction rises an opportunity to revamp and modernize the ways of doing things.

The grant is not about replanting and replacing, said officials, but about deepening the scope of their curation and research. Interim Director, Andrew Wyatt, described the project’s technology, which includes a laser rangefinder operated with the help of a UC Davis consultant. The project begins with creating a base map and a GIS database, and the goal is a detailed topographic account of the garden. The press release cites this as instrumental in the Garden’s recovery from the fire. As an example, the release notes that these maps could bring insight to patterns of plant mortality, which would inform the garden’s re-design.

As remembered by the fire, gardeners are stewards of the environment only insofar as they are slaves to it, too. But destruction occasions clean slates and the ability to revise and reverse precedents made many years ago. Johnson remembered an ample tree collection, a canopy of cypresses. “We lost the collection [in the fire], which was a heartbreak,” she says, “but it opened up the vista of the ocean.”


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