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Arboretum Ideas

    To: whom it may concern.
    From: Arthur Lee Jacobson.
    November 10th, 1994.

    Whereas a Master Plan is to be done for Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum, and ideas float freely, here are mine. Some are old, others fresh. My premises are to think BIG, to dream of ideals; to strive for our best, regardless of what goes on at peer institutions; to not be handicapped by confining, unimaginative precedent.

Contents:
    1) OVERALL APPROACH
    2) PUBLIC SERVICE; OUTREACH
    3) LAND USE
    4) GROUNDS and ACCESSIONS
    5) FUNDRAISING
    6) MANAGEMENT and STAFF

1) OVERALL APPROACH
    Treat the arboretum and its functions with more of a business approach. That is, earn the public's support by serving them well. Be active with outreach, not passive. Be scrupulously honest as a mark of respect.

2) PUBLIC SERVICE; OUTREACH
    The Graham Visitor Center is the arboretum hub or heart. Its landscaping must inspire and educate. Its paint and aura need warmth and brightness. The open hours need expanding, and even when it must be closed, much more can be done outside by way of signage and displays. Examples: A suggestion box. A bulletin board featuring the plant of the week. A box of free brochures/maps. A list of answers to the most commonly asked questions. An outdoor clock, and posted bus schedules.
    Inside the visitor center, make a room on the ground floor into an office/library where people can examine books, a collection of dried fruits and cones, plastic-mounted herbarium sheets of the arboretum flora, etc. This room can be staffed by a combination of employees and volunteers. In time it would include a computerized retrieval system where people can get facts about arboretum plants. Until this computer program is ready, a simplified card catalog approach should exist, so people can flip through an alphabetic set of illustrated cards, to learn about arboretum plants.
    The director, curator, or whoever is best able, should write a weekly or bimonthly column for the Sunday newspaper, telling what's going on in the arboretum. The Visitor Center should have many more public lectures, both to educate and to raise money. Unlike the Center for Urban Horticulture facility, parking is free, which is an added draw. If attendance for such events warrants it, a shuttle bus should run between the University district and the visitor center.
    At least one meaningful study or trial should be conducted each year, and the results publicized. For example: disease-resistant crabapples; the best winter-blooming plants; the best Japanese maples for fall color; historic records of cold-hardiness of borderline plants. Whether staff, students or volunteers do this, there should be uniform policies. The point is to demonstrate the need for a plant collection, and its value.

3) LAND USE
    The present restricted boundaries of the arboretum are reduced from what it once had and what it can reacquire. Instead of sighing "we can't take care of what we already have," aggressively grow and find the ways to make the place shine. The Washington State Department of Transportation grabbed a big parcel of land for SR520, but there is no reason why the arboretum needed to totally abandon all that land. By the Museum of History and Industry, and all around the freeway ramps, is land suited for planting. At the other end of the arboretum is the playfield. To incorporate educational plantings around the ballfields will not impinge on athletic needs. The street right of way from Boyer Avenue to Lynn Street sits as a wild area, and should be actively managed by the arboretum. There used to be much vacant land right up on Madison Street, which could have been bought and used for money-making arboretum activities. The lost opportunities at the Madison area are staggering. The arboretum's south end is where the visitor center should have been: near bus lines, shops, and with room for parking. It may be not to late to salvage something there.

4) GROUNDS and ACCESSIONS
    An Arboretum sign and map should be at every entrance and trailhead. No opportunity should be missed to deal with choking native vegetation. Education of the threat needs repeating. Arborists must be repeatedly solicited and given credit in print for their donated services. The gardeners and insured volunteers must take an increasingly active role or native trees will swallow the place. More benches are needed. It would be especially appropriate to use the logged cedars for this purpose, and to let artists carve them into appropriate shapes. The poison-soaked, stinking bollards by the visitor center should be given away and replaced with cedar, concrete, or some unobjectionable substitute. The arboretum should strive towards integrated pest management and minimal pesticide use.
    A full time staffer should be assigned to work on the Rhododendron collection, until it is properly displayed, labeled, and documented.
    Labeling needs an overhaul. The ideal labels are not mere scientific names and accession numbers, but are interpretive. If a tree is an especially runty specimen, say so. Likewise specify if it is the largest known in the country, or the oldest, or in any way remarkable. To a beginner, a label that says "Prunus sp." or "Prunus species" is not enough --add: "Flowering Cherry," or "Unknown Cultivar," etc. The inventory catalog contains a crude and inaccurate map. A test of the Ilex, Fraxinus and Juniperus collections against their representation as cited in the book showed too much discrepancy. The need for accuracy is not being addressed. Someone should work full time at general identification and labeling. In the long run, bar-codes on the labels will enable visitors equipped with rented scanners to call-up all matter of data. Instead of dismissing such a scenario as unaffordable fantasy, secure a grant from Microsoft plant-lovers to develop such a system. Imagine the possibilities: there could be foreign language editions as well. The software could be sold.
    A wish-list of all the important trees, shrubs and vines not yet in the arboretum should be made. Nurseries should be actively solicited, and when they donate plants, the labels can say "Donated by so and so nursery." Nurseries giving a substantial amount should be profiled in the Arboretum Bulletion or the quarterly newsletter. (Ditto for volunteers.)
    Maintain for visiting experts a list of arboretum plants of unknown or disputed identity. Offer a bounty for proven correct identifications.
    When accessions die, do not merely cut them down and scrawl "died" on the file card. Measure them, say why they died, and keep a list of death causes: the number that die each year from shade, or root-rot, or windstorms, etc.
    Some theme gardens are in the arboretum (Winter, Natives, Japanese, Dwarf Conifers, Himalayan, New Zealand). Such projects excite people. Beef up the rockery area to be a full fledged Southwest-Mediterranean zone. Get a set of trees appropriate for large containers and place them around the visitor center. Install appropriate children's plants near the play areas. Put in a handicapped-accessible garden featuring braille labels and scented plants, as well as some which are great fun to touch. Make an experimental area for subtropical or borderline plants which are a gamble and need testing. Build a 12 foot high stone wall for shrubs and vines that thrive on reflected heat (such as crape myrtles and pomegranates). Make a timber bamboo grove.
    Establish a Horticultural Advisory Group of local experts to give advice on all facets of the arboretum collections.

5) FUNDRAISING
    Acquire a site on Madison Street, or if need be in the Montlake business block, to serve (depending on the site) as a restaurant, gift shop, garden center, nursery, bookstore or cafe. Install an espresso cart at the visitor center. Have an annual artists' gallery show selling paintings, photographs and handicrafts of the arboretum. Do whatever is possible legally to boost the production, sales and profits at the Pat Calvert greenhouse. The ideal situation is to own a place on the order of Molbak's or Wells' Medina. Such a scenario is not unthinkable. Hold summer benefit concerts and plays at the arboretum. Have an annual fair or festival with all manner of activities, much like the Greek Orthodox Church and many other groups. License any possible concessions or tours or the like --if they are appropriate and profitable. Create and sell numerous post cards, calendars, pamphlets, posters, CD-ROMS, videos, etc., featuring arboretum plants, birds, butterflies, cones, mosses, fungi, etc. Pump up the Arboretum Bulletin into a real money-maker. Publish books (the right way). Seek an endowment. If the right enthusiasm, business sense and cooperation exist, the needed money will be forthcoming. Most of all it depends on loving passion and unrelenting drive. J.C. Raulston can bring in more money because of his heart, than the entire Center for Urban Horticulture faculty and staff all put together.

6) MANAGEMENT and STAFF
    Generate a strong cooperative atmosphere. Gardeners are the lead people seen daily by the public. Not only so they deserve adequate salaries, but respect, and their voices must be encouraged, not merely suffered. At least two days a month, the whole staff should get together and talk exclusively about plants; in-house education. Gardeners are not mere machine adjuncts; they should learn far more about plants by working at the arboretum than they would if they worked at a golf course. They should be not only be given opportunities for continuing education, it should be required. One day a month groundskeeping work should be required for the office workers.
    Office workers, such as director and curator, should maintain at least minimal office hours so the public can have ready access to them. These hours should not merely be established, but publicized, with people encouraged to come in. The director, curator and registrar should also be active in the local garden social scene, not aloof. The former arboretum staff should be feted and their advice and recollections recorded. Unjust salary differences between people for doing similar work should be abolished. Every year $1,000-5,000 should be awarded to employees or volunteers who think up the best ways to improve the place, save money, or otherwise earn the bonus award.
    Necessity is the Mother of Invention. A tight wallet engenders prudent spending (or causes bankruptcy). There is excessive hiring of contractors and consultants, as witnessed by the entire Master Plan process. More work should be done by volunteers, as with the display bed by the visitor center. The gardeners should be trained in volunteer-management and public relations; each gardener should oversee a group of volunteers. If a major project (like pond renovation) is needed, giant work-parties should be done for everything possible. Charismatic personalities (such as Ciscoe Morris) attract followers. One dynamic leader can get loads of work done.
    The tone of a business, team, or organization, is set by whoever guides the helm. The arboretumÕs director must care deeply about the arboretum, desire nothing more than for it to be all it could be for people, be an inspiring, respected leader, and hire outstanding staff.
    Whether the historic triangle system (City, UW, Arboretum Foundation) is the best way to manage the arboretum, should be reexamined objectively.
    Finally, will everyone who cares please take the time to say what you think? We are at a rare opportunity now and must seize the chance.


    (most of the preceding suggestions were never included in the Master Plan. The Master Plan did get approved, after a lengthy and combative process. Some things changed since the above was written, such as parking now being free at the Center for Urban Horticulture, J.C. Raulston dying, and the curatorial position being eliminated.)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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