Annual Display and Plant Diversity Garden: 2018 Update
By: Cory Hirsch
Department of Plant Pathology
The project that my group initiated this summer was to develop a garden to help educate the public about plants, food, and plant diversity. Working in plant and agricultural sciences we are afforded the opportunity to research and actively engage with food sources and management. Often, we take this for granted, and we have a duty to share our research and the diversity of plants with the public. For this purpose, we designed and implemented a plant diversity garden.
We had five different plots within the garden, each with an intended purpose for a distinct take-home message for the public. One plot was a ‘pizza garden’. This plot was shaped like a pizza, circular with 8 wedges, with each wedge planted with a different plant commonly found on pizza (green onion, fennel, green pepper, roma tomato, oregano, basil, and red pepper). This plot demonstrated the plants that go into a common food. We also had a plot of medicinal plants (lavender, chamomile, thyme, sage, catnip, and marigold). These plants are used for various medicinal purposes. Three plots were designed to show the diversity of plant species, namely within a family of plants (Solanaceae) and within a species (mint and corn). The Solanaceae plot contained closely related plants but are visibly distinct. This plot was planted with cherry tomato, tomatillo, petunia, potato, eggplant, jalapeno, and tobacco. The corn plot consisted of a variety of corn plants that had distinct and diverse colors, both on different parts of the plant and the kernels. This plot was intended to show how corn is really diverse and isn’t simply sweet corn people are accustomed to eating. The last plot contained different varieties of mint and was similar to the corn plot, but also extended to touch and taste. As the corn colors weren’t really evident until late in the season when the kernels are maturing, the diversity of mints, namely in different types of taste and smell, was present from the very beginning of the season. It also provided a plot that visitors could interact with throughput the season, as the mint leaves could be taken and eaten or rubbed and smelled to communicate their diversity. This plot really made the diversity garden stand out from the rest of the research plots as it was intended to be touch and feel and highly interactive with the public. All of these plots were designed with walking paths through them to increase engagement with the plants and to get more people to appreciate plant science, excite the next generation of plant researchers, and understand more about food.
The garden was very successful for the first year working within an organic setting, but there were some issues realized during the summer. Firstly, due to the organic nature of the garden weed control was a constant struggle. This took a large amount of time and will require more attention if the project is continued. We were able to manage the animal damage until towards the end of the growing season, but would be something we would need to address better in the future.
If this project is continued in the future we will build upon our successes. We will work to refine our planting for improved aesthetics and prioritize plants that grew well this year. We will also work to provide signage throughout the garden to help the public engage with the garden on their own. Lastly, although the main purpose is not research, we did notice that pollinators were heavy visitors within the garden, we could work to capture the influence of individual plants and plots on pollinator visits.