By Margeaux Apple, HF&G Plant Recorder
At Holden Forests & Gardens there are over 21,000 plants and plant groupings that we consider to be a part of our plant collection. Considering a plant as part of our collection means that that plant has a story to tell. Being in the Plant Records Office means we record these stories and help further understanding of our leafy companions. But we don’t operate in a vacuum. Frequent communication with Horticulture, Research, the Nursery, and the rest of the Collections Department facilitates good records keeping. Good records keeping means that on any given plant in the collection we could tell you just about anything you might want to know.
What might you want to know? Well, let’s say you come across a neat plant in the garden. Maybe it has a showy bloom, an interesting bark, an alluring leaf, or a familiar fragrance. Whatever it might be, you want to know who that plant is. And with good records keeping we can tell you! We can tell you the current, accepted scientific name (or if its name is hotly contested!), who named it, the common name, and where in the world it is native to. But let’s go a bit deeper, shall we? Let’s find out about this specific plant; where did Holden acquire it from? When? Was it collected directly from the wild as a seed or perhaps as scion wood (a cutting as means of propagation)? Furthermore, when was it planted in the garden? If it is a woody plant, what are its coordinates? How is it doing? How tall is it? When does it generally bloom? What color are its flowers? All of this and more.
Okay, your head might be spinning. But you also might be wondering well how do you collect all this information? And I would tell you the number one way we keep the records up-to-date is through inventory.
When the weather is dry and above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, we in Plant Records devote about a quarter of our time to inventory. What does that look like? If we need to do inventory in a given area we use the database, BG-Base, to print out a list of all of the plants said to currently be in that given bed/area (see Figures 1 & 2). Which area we chose to inventory depends on the time past since inventory was last done there. Our Collection’s Policy directs that every 3-5 years a plant should be assessed. So that means that over the course of 3-5 years the Plant Records Department finds, measures, and assesses each and every one of those 21,000+ plants/plant groupings (plus any new plantings in that time, and noting plant removals or deaths).
So, we determine which area is next, grab our list, a clipboard, pencil, measuring tools and we head out to look at some plants. I can tell you, you truly don’t grasp how many different varieties of plants are in a garden until it’s your job to find ‘em all. So we do our best to find them and we update their stories.
Sometimes, it’s a great story: a wild collected rue-anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) blooming in the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden that hadn’t been noted in 10 years (Figure 3). A 39-foot white ash (Fraxinus americana) in the otherwise bleak Ash Collection in excellent condition with no visible Emerald Ash Borer damage. A gang of old white birch (Betula papyrifera) near Blueberry Pond celebrating their 80th year at Holden. A pollinator party on short-toothed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) in the Arlene and Arthur S. Holden Butterfly Garden. The first rose of the season in the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Rose Garden (it is usually Rosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’). A big old oak tree. We record all of these wonderful happenings during the inventory process.
Of course, the story isn’t always uplifting: signs of beech leaf disease in our native American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Devastation after a storm like December 1st, 2020. A chlorotic Rhododendron suffering from high soil pH. Significant dieback in a once healthy specimen, caused by stem-girdling roots. A wildflower that did not make it through the winter. From these stories too, we learn many lessons.
We do not get to pick the stories, we only observe, measure, and record what the plants tell us. In this line of work, there is no value in assumptions. We want to tell the story as it is, not as we may wish to see it. This is the power and capacity of plant records. A garden has so many stories to tell and we have the honor and privilege to listen and share.
Margeaux is the Plant Recorder for Holden Forests & Gardens. In this position, she works closely with other members of the Collections and Horticulture teams to ensure the quality of the plant collection and the records kept on it. Margeaux began her involvement with HF&G in 2017 as a volunteer in the Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse. Prior to involvement with the institution, Margeaux graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science in Environment and Natural Resources