Traditional Displays – Taxonomy and Typology
Traditional arboretum and botanical garden displays usually fall into two types: a) plants organized taxonomically by family and genus, often sub-divided into categories of "hardy" and "tropical" and b) a taxonomy or typology of popular garden styles, such as "rock garden", "Japanese garden" and "perennial border". The former were often informative, but not very attractive and the later attractive, but not very informative.
Novelty is the engine which drives attendance in popular attractions, including botanical gardens. However with major fixed plant collections, frequent change is difficult. Therefore many public gardens have special venues for seasonal and other changing plant displays. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden (Pittsburgh, PA) is taking this idea further in their new tropical conservatory. Major features such as waterfalls and stream systems, as well as vernacular architectural and cultural elements will be designed to be changed easily to enhance seasonally changing display themes.
Native Ecological Displays
Many public gardens also set aside and interpret characteristic native plant communities such as wetlands, woodlands, or coast heathlands, even re-establishing these plant communities where they have been lost.
Exotic Ecological Displays
In Victorian times glass houses of exotic plants became popular. These were often organized by climate, with tropical forest, desert and Mediterranean being common classifications. However plants were usually presented as specimens, not ecological communities and species from various continents and bio-climatic zones were indiscriminately grouped.
In recent times, institutions such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden (USA), Kew Gardens (GB) and the Royal Botanical Garden, Sydney (Aus) decided to reorganize their tropical displays to interpret tropical plant communities in terms of their global value and conservation.
Beautiful and enlightening ecological displays need not be limited to tropical houses. Instead of organizing arboretum groupings of Pinaceæ or Moraceæ, why not recreate ecological communities such as "Manchurian temperate forest", "Australasian monsoon forest" or "Sonoran desert" as large outdoor displays? These exhibits would replicate topography, geology, herbaceous and woody plant communities and could include vernacular buildings and cultural artifacts. Outstanding plant specimens would, of course, add to the overall composition, but the emphasis would be upon plants as communities, rather than as objects.
Using the concepts found in new learning trends can enhance the value of all the newly developing display gardens.
Seeking to enlarge their audience, some public gardens have developed special fun and discovery areas for children, the physically or mentally challenged and other special audiences. The Children's Adventure Garden (New York Botanical Garden), Rabitat (National Zoological Park, Washington, DC) and Garden of Awareness (Blythe Park, Seattle, WA) are innovative examples.
"Rabitat" was a conceptual discovery garden planned for the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, USA, but never developed. Here children would play the role of "rabbits", exploring tunnels, mazes with giant plants and topiary insects while avoiding simulated "foxes, hounds and hawks". This strong theme and storyline organized discovery and play activities while leaving great scope for children's imaginations.