Education Central to “Museum of Plants”
The New York Botanical Garden is often described as a “museum of plants.” With 250 acres; 50 different gardens and plant collections; a preeminent Victorian-era conservatory that is a New York City Landmark; the largest herbarium in the Western Hemisphere, containing over 7 million specimens; and the most important botanical and horticultural library in the world, that might seem self-evident. However, a museum is more than its collections—it is a place where collections are creatively displayed and interpreted in ways that allow visitors to appreciate and learn. As such, education is fundamental to a museum’s mission. Recent exhibitions at the Botanical Garden have brought education to the fore with new and compelling programming, exhibitry, and interpretation.
Last fall, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum melded the beautifully evocative and horticulturally exacting art of a traditional Japanese chrysanthemum exhibition with dynamic interpretation and educational programming for children and adults that expressed not only Japan’s floral artistry, but also its rich cultural heritage. Interpretive panels, audio guides and cell phone tours, and docent- and curator-led tours informed the visitor experience, explaining the painstaking horticultural work required to achieve the stunning and exotic plant forms. Japanese music, exquisite bonsai, and a massive bamboo sculpture added to the Japanese theme. Meanwhile, in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, “Kiku for Kids” brought the flavor of Japanese culture to school groups and families. Children made origami cranes and traditional fish prints, created their own kiku-inspired field guides, and participated in a traditional tea ceremony in an adorable, kid-sized tea house. For adults, Continuing Education offerings included creating ikebana floral arrangements, training bonsai, and painting kiku chrysanthemums in watercolor. The Kiku exhibit returns to the Botanical Garden on October 18 through November 16.
This past spring, Darwin’s Garden: An Evolutionary Adventure, a Garden-wide exhibition focusing on the influence of plants on Charles Darwin’s thinking about evolution and natural selection, integrated the three program areas of the Garden—horticulture, science, and education—more robustly and successfully than ever before. The exhibition in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory brought to life the rich floral environment of Darwin’s property in Kent, England, including a representation of his home, Down House, where visitors could look out a window upon a garden much like the one Darwin surveyed as he developed his famous theory. Also in the Conservatory, exhibition stations let visitors observe many of the same species that fascinated Darwin. Throughout the Garden, an Evolutionary Tour allowed visitors to trace the Tree of Life and view living examples of 30 species that represent the differentiations in plant life over time. The Children’s Adventure Garden hosted programs and activities for school groups and families, based on the same concepts and experiments that intrigued Darwin.
This summer, with the “Moore in America: Monumental Sculpture at The New York Botanical Garden” exhibition, the Garden has once again taken a strong educational and interpretive approach to a Garden-wide show. The largest outdoor exhibition of Henry Moore’s sculpture ever mounted in the United States, the exhibition is spread throughout the Garden’s grounds and collections, and augmented by educator-led tours of the artwork, audio and cell phone tours, and a display of many of Henry Moore’s maquettes, small models the artist used to flesh out ideas and draw inspiration in preparation for building his large and inspiring sculpture. A Family Guide provides activities for children, emphasizing the connection between Moore’s art and the natural forms from which he drew inspiration.
In all, The New York Botanical Garden offers a wide array of educational programs and interpretation that enhances the visitor’s experience of featured exhibitions—yes, the flowers are spectacular, but if you visit, you just might learn something as well.
The Moore in America exhibition continues through November 2. Tickets and information are available at nybg.org or by calling 718.817.8700.#
Jeff Downing is Vice President for Education at The New York Botanical Garden.