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Maintenance Plans, a Management Tool for Living Plant Collections.

Fiona Powrie & Ian Oliver,

National Botanical Institute, RSA


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Abstract

Maintenance Plans are being developed as management tools for the Living Plant Collections, held in the eight gardens of the National Botanical Institute, spread throughout South Africa. These plans are based on the Maintenance Plans developed by Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Faced with the vast flora of southern Africa and limited resources, it is necessary for the National Botanical Institute to assess the value of the living plant collections in the gardens. The concept is to use the maintenance plans, not only to record the horticultural information pertaining to the collections, but to use it as a management tool to access the value of the collection. These plans will resolve two problems, the loss of information resulting from staff changes and the best allocation of resources.

The maintenance plans will cover the significance of the collection, the current status, the locality, a current business plan, horticultural maintenance, horticultural research and the rationale behind the garden display.

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Maintenance Plans

The National Botanical Institute is tasked to ‘establish, develop and maintain collections of southern African plants in national botanical gardens’.

The foundation of a botanical garden lies in the living plant collections. Without living plant collections, the garden will become a park. The collections and the research around them, provide the display and educational material that makes a botanical garden. Kirstenbosch, like many other gardens, I suspect, is discovering that the emphasis of activities is moving from collections and horticulture to the other issues such as visitor facilities, concerts, security, display, restaurants and buildings.

Though we only grow the flora of southern Africa, that flora is vast and in most cases the plants are new to horticulture. Ideally, we would like to grow all 30 000 odd species and all the cultivars thereof. Realistically, resources are limited, both the people and the facilities to grow these plants. One of the strengths of the Institute is that the eight gardens are scattered throughout the biogeographical regions of southern Africa enabling the institute to grow many of the species in, or under conditions close to, their natural habitat.

To ensure that the Objectives of the National Botanical Institute are met by the Living Plant Collections and that all the horticultural staff work within a common framework ‘A Living Plant Collections Policy for the NBI’ was drawn up. This bare skeleton needs to be fleshed out for each garden providing the focus for that garden. A number of full day workshops were held, initially with the Kirstenbosch staff and later including staff from the regional gardens. These workshops had a number of purposes:

The last of these workshops was used to discuss and refine The Living Plant Collection policy. Some of the major questions raised during these workshops were:

Though the collections policy answers What plant groups? and Why these groups? It does not answer the where, what and how questions. While pondering on how best to handle this problem we were shown copies of the very comprehensive Maintenance Plans developed by Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. The concept and ideas, in these plans, provided a very sound basis from which to develop our own. We decided that each living plant collection must have a maintenance plan that is updated annually. The plan should include:

These plans would serve a number of functions.

This may sound idealistic, but some of the information already exists and merely needs to be collated. If maintenance plans are implemented as part of an annual review programme, by which the collection and the specialist in charge of that collection are evaluated, an ordered written record for each collection will be kept and developed. The longer-term value of this process is that the information gathered would form the basis of future publications, in fact, with some of our older collections publications have been submitted as part of the maintenance plans.

Plans of this nature enable managers to make clear informed decisions with regard to the living plant collections that form the backbone of the garden.

Clear well-structured maintenance plans for all living plant collections within a botanic garden provide a useful management tool for the running of that garden.

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