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Get to know Tom Arbour: Curator of Living Collections

April 6, 2022


I’m relatively new to the Holden Forests and Gardens.  I started last September after a 20+ year career working for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.  In the short time I have been here, I can honestly say that I’m amazed every day that I work for an organization where we all work with and for plants. 

I’m the curator of living collections.  But what does that exactly mean?  My background is studying and managing the natural flora of Ohio.  I sought populations of rare and unusual plants and their habitats across the state, and then documented those plants in a repository called Ohio Natural Heritage Database.  While Holden Forests and Gardens’ lands covers a fraction of the entire state, there are so many plants in our gardens, glasshouses, and arboretum collections, I could spend a lifetime learning all the names and stories of the thousands of species and cultivated varieties we grow. 

And quite simply, that is my role.  To be the person who guides and builds the collection of plants and trees.  What really sets us apart from my career in natural areas management is how we track everything we plant as part of the living collection. As a botanical garden, we carefully document our collection.  Using a botanical garden database called “BG-Base”, we track the stories of each plant or tree.  We can answer questions like: “Was this plant collected in the wild or purchased from a nursery?” and “who was it that gave us this plant, and when exactly was that?” This information helps us understand which plants are the most important, which plants might be valuable to conserve in case their wild populations go extinct, and which plants are valuable to research. 

As I begin this journey, I’m learning as much about our plants and trees that I can to tell their stories. Already, more than anything, I’m impressed with the diversity of plants and gardens that we offer our visitors.  Distinctive collections that I’ve been impressed with are the towering conifers at the entrance to the Arboretum, the bizarre plants of the spiny desert of Madagascar at the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the Arlene S. Holden wildflower garden full of native plants that I recognize from my botanizing across Ohio.  What are your favorites? Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] to talk plants. 

Tom Arbour

Tom Arbour

Curator of Living Collections

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