Four leaders of the Great Park Garden Coalition attended the annual conference of the American Public Garden Association (APGA), June 4-8, 2018, at Disneyland Hotel. Garden CEOs, landscape architects, university professors, and professional horticulturists from across the country could not have been more welcoming to us, one of the newest organizations to join the prestigious APGA. We gleaned ideas and an adrenaline shot of enthusiasm from listening to program speakers explore this year’s theme—“Cultivate Your Creative Nature”!

A Roundtable Report from 2018 American Public Garden Association Conference

MARIE CONNORS, Coalition Steering Committee Lead

If I had to unpack the “creative” part of the conference’s theme, “Cultivate Your Creative Nature,” I’d say, It’s always important to take a fresh look at what you are doing. Review the Master Plan, make mid-course corrections, and change the focus to fit local conditions, such as fire and drought. Some powerful messages: Cultivate allies as well as the soil. Keep the process inclusive. Plans aren’t necessarily binding documents, one speaker said, but they can serve a moral function, to remind us of the long view. For me, the take away message from the conference was: People want beauty in a world dominated by the built environment, and public gardens are one of the best ways to make that happen.

I especially enjoyed the presentations about the revitalization of existing gardens.

The CEO of the South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes talked about the 87-acre public garden, built on a former landfill, reinvigorated with a popular new Children’s Garden.

Further up the coast, Ventura has a brand new botanic garden, damaged by a recent fire but recovery is going well. They’ve come up with a cost-effective source of collecting pure water from the heavy fog.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s new rainwater collection exhibit is drawing interest from visitors by showing the public how to manage in a drought.

Down south in El Cajon, kids are getting hands-on experience at the Water Conservation Garden. Their motto: “You can change the world with your own two hands!!”

KAY HAVENS, Coalition Corporate Secretary

The APGA Conference was amazing! Public gardens in America today are vigorous, robust and thriving. Data supporting gardens is impressive. Did you know that more people attend public gardens than all major league ball sports combined?

Capital campaigns are extremely successful, because business, public, and political communities realize that public gardens are powerhouses for educational (STEM), cultural outreach, families, property values, and local economic benefits.

Attendance is rising too, and why wouldn’t it? Gardens provide terrific programs for people of all ages from experiential, hands-on children’s gardens, to “can’t miss it” seasonal cultural events. With urban density increasing, gardens are a natural fit for everyone, including many sponsors who want to “give back” in meaningful ways for generations to come. At the conference we found nine hundred happy and energized public garden professionals all eager to help us bring a new garden onboard. The APGA gave us a clearer understanding about how to build a world-class public garden in Orange County. We loved it!

CHRIS LOVELL, Coalition Steering Committee Lead

The conference was exciting and fun and the sessions gave us an opportunity to spend time with other passionate garden lovers!  My biggest takeaway was that when we create botanical gardens, we should think more about their social role, not just education and science. Recent surveys show that the 18 to 24 age group ranks highest in feelings of loneliness (more than seniors!), and that loneliness is worse for our health than smoking and obesity! What better reason to bring opportunities for social interaction through gardens into our lives. Gardens serve as ‘detox centers’ from the everyday stresses of life, and are vital for access to a ‘3rd place’ where we can go outside of Home and Work.

One of the sessions discussed the “Nature Rx” programs that were conducted at three universities: UC Davis, University of Minnesota, and Cornell. The programs were focused on how to prompt people to spend less time indoors and more time outside enjoying nature, and to show that nature benefits our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Gardens can provide a connection with nature, allow for reflection, and create meaningful experiences. Some garden programs encouraged people to share their experiences when visiting gardens on these campuses by taking pictures and creating hashtags such as #best place for a date, #best fall colors, etc. What a great way to use social media to create interest in gardens! Creating meaningful experiences through gardens reaffirmed to me the importance of our Coalition’s vision to create experiential gardens at the Orange County Great Park.