National collections programs

Alan Meerow
Sat, 12 Jun 2004 12:18:17 PDT

The National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) of USDA-Ag Research Service, for
whom I work, is trying to forge a cooperative integration with AABGA member
gardens by which participating garden collections would be essentially be
accessible through the NPGS.  Collections in the NPGS are accessible through
the USDA-ARS GRIN web site.  The distribution system is not sufficiently
peopled to handle lot's of hobbyist requests, but genuine research requests
and grower requests are taken seriously.  ARS is funding an Ornamental
Germplasm Center at Ohio State University in Columbus OH as well.

Our Germplasm Repository in Pullman, WA maintains an allium collection.
Tour requests by groups are always accommodated at National Germplasm
Repositories.  Distribution requests.on behalf of the group would probably
be fulfilled.

And I agree with you, order beds are a great concept.  I so enjoyed the ones
at Kew when I did a sabbatical there in my Univ. of Florida days.

Alan Meerow

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Jim McKenney" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, June 12, 2004 2:38 PM
Subject: [pbs] National collections programs

> Jane, thanks for broaching this topic.
> Believe me, I'm trying hard to keep what follows from becoming a rant.
> When I was a kid, I had this idea that I would start a garden club. Among
> other things, each member would incur the responsibility to maintain
> of one particular plant for as long as they were members actively
> Years later,  when in the late '60s I had just gotten out of the Army
> serving two years as a draftee medic and then enduring a family tragedy, I
> needed a change. I grabbed my back pack and took off for the UK and Europe
> for the summer. I visited lots of public gardens, took lots of photos and
> had the horticultural education of my life. After that, things back home
> looked, well, boring. We Americans spend a fortune on horticulture, but I
> don't think we generally get good value for our money.
> Of the many and varied things I saw, the "order beds" at Oxford and Kew
> made a huge impression on me. It's such a simple idea, and such a source
> intense interest and gratification to a certain type of gardening
> Yet try to fine something similar in an American public garden. We do some
> aspects of this well: for instance, we have institutions which maintain
> important collections such as the bonsai collection at the US National
> Arboretum. My guess is that there are probably only five or six cities in
> the world which can offer anything remotely comparable.
> But by and large, unless there is some mediagenic, star quality to the
> enterprise, American public institutions don't seem to have done this well
> yet.
> Where does the gardener go who wants to see a Heuchera collection, or a
> Buddleja collection, or a tulip collection or an Allium collection?
> Here in the Washington area we have several wonderful public gardens which
> maintain an impressive diversity of plants. But these facilities are
> maintained with a keen eye on the overall aesthetic effect - the ever
> irrepressible American talent for enterprise insures that these gardens
> always ready to become revenue generating venues for weddings, parties and
> so on.
> Indeed, it's easy to get the impression that these gardens are run not
> the interests of keen gardeners in mind but rather with the expectations
> the least-common-denominator of gardening interest. I don't need to be
> reminded that it is the taxes paid by the least-common-denominator crowd
> which makes all of this possible; and I'm a firm believer that it will
> eventually accrue to the good of us all to encourage an interest in
> gardening at all levels.
> But the way we are doing things now presents a strange irony: a lot of
> gardeners find our public gardens irrelevant.
> I think a national collections program is a wonderful idea. And it would
> great if any such program included efforts to establish regional
> mirror-image collections.
> I'm really fired up on this topic, but I'll stop here for now. I hope a
> of others jump in with ideas and experiences - especially our UK friends
> who now have years of experience running such programs.
> Jim McKenney
> Montgomery county, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, whose garden looks somewhat
> like a national collection of something.
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