Strengthening our Roots
By Michael D. Allen, Executive Director, Memphis Botanic Garden
In 1953, 2,500 Iris rhizomes were transplanted into a vacant plot of land in a largely undeveloped East Memphis neighborhood that was destined to become the Memphis Botanic Garden. Today, as we begin to celebrate our 70th anniversary, Memphis’s Garden has grown into 96 acres with over 30 display gardens, including a world-class children’s garden, a state-of-the-art outdoor performance venue, thousands of tourists, 6,500 family memberships, over 40,000 school children visits, and more than a quarter-million visitors each year.
Ours is an excellent example of a successful public–private partnership. Owned by the City of Memphis, this center-city oasis is cared for by the Memphis Botanic Garden Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit, which has responsibility for day-to-day operations, staffing, fundraising, fiscal governance, strategic planning, and more.
As a member of the American Horticulture Society, we participate in a reciprocity program with hundreds of other gardens, providing access to our grounds to thousands of garden tourists from throughout the United States each year.
Over the past decade, the Garden has strategically invested over $20 Million in new capital projects. These range from the above-mentioned children’s garden, My Big Backyard, to the Radians Amphitheater an 8,000-person outdoor performance venue, to recent upgrades to our visitors center, grounds, and select gardens. Now, we embark upon our next major initiative, Rooted at Park and Cherry, a $5 million capital campaign with four distinct projects to be completed by the close of 2024:
- Building a new 3,400 square-foot glasshouse to be home to our Tropical Plant Collection and host Youth Education programs.
- Enhancements to our 3 ½ acre Arboretum and Orchard.
- The addition of a new, outdoor Kitchen at the Garden.
- A new Rest Area (bathrooms) in the southwest corner of our grounds.
YOUTH EDUCATION / TROPICAL PLANT GLASSHOUSE
This new 3,400-square-foot structure will be located directly west of our Rose Garden and will border Cherry Road. It will be home to our expanding tropical plant collection, periodic small-scale seasonal plant exhibitions, and will be open to our members and guests during regular operating hours. An adjacent outdoor classroom will help host the over 40,000 school children from all corners of our community who visit the Garden each year, while a new, small patio will provide seating and a place of rest for visitors.
Finally, we plan to incorporate dramatic lighting into the building design such that this glasshouse might become an iconic addition to the Memphis architectural landscape in the years to come.
ARBORETUM AND ORCHARD
Our goal is to make this 3½ acre space more inviting and accessible to our visitors by demonstrating transferable landscape stewardship principles. Enhancements will include a defined entryway, hard and soft pathways, three distinct meadow areas, three gathering spaces / outdoor classrooms, public art, seating, and a significant increase in the number and diversity of rare and / or unique canopy and understory trees.
Our Arboretum will be revitalized with the addition of dozens of new fruit trees as well as ‘patches’ for raspberries, strawberries, and more! All of these will be open to members and guests for fruit-picking when in season.
KITCHEN AT THE GARDEN
Designed as a new home base for nutrition classes for children and adults, we envision future classes on healthy eating, garden-to-table cooking, and harvest and canning to take place in this kitchen using produce and eggs provided by the neighboring Urban Home Garden. Beyond these educational aspects, we also see this as a space for celebrity chef dinners, cooking demonstrations, and other special events.
FAMILY REST AREA (BATHROOMS) AND EVENT LAWN
This long-needed and much-asked-for space in the southwest corner of our Garden will provide rest areas for men, women, and families along with a spacious new event lawn. The southwest portion of our Garden includes our popular Japanese, Asian, and Urban Home Gardens, as well as the soon-to-be-updated Arboretum and Orchard.
A wonderful quote is attributed to the late actress Audrey Hepburn: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” The Rooted at Park and Cherry name pays homage to our literal roots, our founding back in 1953 at the intersection of Park Avenue and Cherry Road when, our predecessors had the vision to plant a garden with the belief in a better tomorrow. Now is our time to do the same.
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