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L.A. Arboretum survey reveals what visitors want: Everything

October 28, 2011 |  7:53 am

Arboretum aloes
Last winter the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden asked what we the public wanted from it. The arboretum held workshops and even hired a professional to run up an online questionnaire. Last month, it published a summary of our responses.

Arboretum aloeThis much can be said about us: We’re not picky. We want everything. According to the new strategic plan, we want a prettier entrance, better signs and more fabulous gift shop. We want to save water and to celebrate the existing water-glugging collection of plants, while perhaps “de-accessioning” a few old soldiers.

We want to emphasize food plants for kids and to preserve a lovely collection of native oaks up the knoll. We want a first-class library with the right kind of onramp to the information superhighway. Did we mention we want invasive plants contained? We do. We also want spiffo management and a fine-tuning of the relationship between the nonprofit foundation and the county officials who, in an occasionally uneasy partnership, run the place.

It’s easy to mock management-speak, so I’m going to do it. Please, may the person who wrote “Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for directional and informational signage and visitor way-finding” not be the one writing the clearer, better signs.

SchulhofBut wade through the officious language of the wish list amassed during nearly a year of formal outreach and the sheer enormity of what we’ve piled on the shoulders of arboretum Chief Executive Richard Schulhof, right, becomes clear. He’s a Harvard-issue plant guy with formidable listening skills, not Atlas. He can’t do this alone. We will get the arboretum we deserve. In 1947, taxes paid to create what is now a 127-acre garden. At the time, ambition for Southern California was at its mid-20th century dizziest. More than 60 years later, Schulhof’s job is to make it work when so many people are broke or claiming to be, and the zeitgeist itself needs a double dose of Lexapro.

Yet the most exhilarating thing about this frailest of collective moments is the void itself. If history teaches us anything, it’s that whoever shows up to fill it will carry the day. The upshot? There has never been a better or more important time to support the arboretum.

Nothing is preventing those of us who want food gardens and water-trapping demonstrations and less turf from lending a hand to superintendent Timothy Phillips, who has been steadily expanding the cactus and succulent gardens to the point that they are almost as magical as their more famous counterpart at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

This is no small feat when you contrast the prices of admission. A weekend adult entry ticket for a nonmember at the arboretum is $8. At the Huntington, it’s $20. Children 5 to 12 get into the arboretum for $3, to the Huntington for $6.

Buried in our vast ocean of wishes in the arboretum strategic plan is a hint that its charitable board be more accountable. A start would be making plain who they are. Annual reports would let us see what we’re supporting and help us dream aloud in more concrete terms. The arboretum, like the Huntington, was built out of one of the great California ranchos. Unlike the Huntington, the arboretum was meant to be the people’s garden. And so it is. Where it goes from here will be decided by the people who see and seize the moment.

-- Emily Green

Green's column on sustainable gardening appears here on Fridays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page dedicated to gardening in the West.

Updated: This post was updated to include additional photos.

SpacingALSO:

Arboretum surveys public

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"Blue Revolution" in the garden

Two top photos: Aloes bloom at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. Credit: Emily Green.

Lower photo: Richard Schulhof, the arboretum's chief executive. Credit: Genero Molina / Los Angeles Times.

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