San Diego Floral Association
From The Archives of California Garden
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A Botanical Garden—with animals
July/August 2010, Volume 101 No. 4
California Garden has published many articles on exotic plants at the San Diego Zoo where landscaping must meet the challenge of simulating animal habitats of all continents and zones. This article looks more generally at the plant collection, introducing a horticulturist with an ambitious agenda for the Zoo’s development as a botanical garden.
–Nancy Carol Carter
A Botanical Garden—with animals
By Stuart MacDonald
On a warm and sunny day in early spring we visited the San Diego Zoo to talk with Mr. Ernest Chew, Zoo Horticulturist. As familiar as the Zoo is to millions of people, the animal collection has so thoroughly dominated public awareness that the plant collection is often over-looked entirely. What has been developing over the last few years is recognition of the Zoo as a full-fledged botanical garden. . . .
In 1970, Mr. Chew came to work for the Society. It has been his goal to create more than just a leafy setting for the animal collection. Though many fine and rare plants have been planted at the Zoo over the years, they were unlabeled and randomly placed. Much of the area was unused and overgrown with common varieties. In addition, there had never been a general plan or any attempts to organize the plantings. Mr. Chew saw this neglect as an opportunity [to establish a plan for collecting and arranging plants at the Zoo].
We asked Mr. Chew to explain the difference between an ordinary garden and a botanical garden. The first step, he said, is “to think of it as a botanical garden.” And hence the plans for development, landscaping, and systematic collecting. In addition, guidelines of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta suggest that at least 60 per cent of the plants be labeled. An inventory must be made to learn exactly what is growing in the Zoo gardens. An index seminum, or index of seeds, must be maintained in order to give other botanical gardens the opportunity to propagate a particular plant, and to preserve endangered species by making their seeds available. A botanical garden is also a place for research, for testing new plants, and for the introduction of promising new species and cultivars to the community. Another function is that of public education. Eventually there will be pamphlets and guides published to acquaint visitors with the wealth of botanical material at the Zoo.
A main concern of Mr. Chew in developing and focusing the Zoological Gardens has been to take advantage of the unusual climate, and also to recognize its limitations. . . . The Zoo visitor sees a landscape that changes from tropical jungle to redwood forest to Australian woodland. Such variety is one of the greatest charms of the Zoo, but it takes planning and restraint to recreate a specific part of the world with plant materials. . . . A large part of the new plant acquisitions has been made possible by donations [from] San Diego Floral Association member clubs. . . . [including] 120 species of palms.
Mission: To promote the knowledge and appreciation of horticulture and floriculture in the San Diego region.