tofino botanical gardens - inspiration from the gardens

Tofino Botanical Gardens - Inspiration from the garden

by John Platenius, Tofino

  • Advocate: to plead in favour of
  • Activism: intentional action to bring about social or political change


It is the nature of gardens, especially public gardens, to change very slowly. In a world seemingly enslaved by a desperate need for that which is new, fast, chic and stylish, public gardens play a very important role in providing beautiful places for contemplation, reflection and re-creation. Offering beauty and peace was the original mission of public gardens, and I hope that it will never be abandoned. Here at Tofino Botanical Gardens, we have filled that role for nearly ten years. But we are also adding another dimension to the role of public gardens - that of strong advocate for activism in the wider world.

Public Gardens have a proud history of providing information and education. Many botanical gardens support large research programs, and many more offer educational programs that reach out to large and diverse audiences. These research and educational missions are extremely important and deserve much higher levels of financial support than they currently receive. But just like Tofino Botanical Gardens, other public gardens have gradually taken on the mission of environmental advocacy and activism. This changing role has been gradual both because of the physical nature of gardens and because the governance culture of public gardens tends to be conservative. Gardeners see the long, slow processes and are not quick to seek drastic change. However, in these extreme times, the governors of public gardens correctly perceive that all of the benefits of their very good work in the areas of beauty, peace, research and education may be destroyed by the massive environmental degradation overwhelming the planet on which we live. This condition calls for a more active role in changing public awareness.

It was not too many years ago that public gardens viewed themselves as being very different from organisations like Sierra Club, the Natural Resource Defence Council, or Conservation International. Those environmental ngo's were young, noisy, aggressive, abrasive and confrontational. They engaged in lawsuits, blockades, and boycotts. They published articles, magazines and books that issued dire warnings of impending disasters and - more disturbing to the conservative mindset - placed blame directly on individuals, corporations and government agencies. Both in style and strategy, the ngo's were very different from the public gardens that were, and are by nature enduring, nurturing, mature, tranquil, and quiet.

ngo's are right to sound loud alarms. The immoderation of our lifestyle over the past 100 years is causing global climate change and a wave of species extinction that threatens not just our fast and chic life style but life itself. We've all heard the doom and gloom headlines. The scientific journal Nature reads that a fungus exacerbated by global warming has erased dozens of amphibian species from the planet in a just few decades. nasa declares that the arctic will be ice-free by the end of the century. A Nature Conservancy report announces that one third of the flowering plant species living in the us (more than 5000 species) are vulnerable to extinction. And we know the list goes on.

These threats are driving public gardens to see the importance of inspiring their visitors to become activists in the many struggles that will define how healthy Life will be for our grandchildren. Providing a place to engage students, researchers and casual tourists about these critical threats is the drive behind the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation's new initiative - the Clayoquot Field Station.

The Clayoquot Field Station is located in the Tofino Botanical Gardens. The Gardens were founded in 1997 to provide the many visitors to this area with an introduction to the natural and cultural assets of Clayoquot Sound. Our stated mission at tbg is "to inspire conservation of the world's temperate coastal rainforests". The emphasis is on the word "inspire".

The Gardens and the Field Station provide a place to reflect on this inspiration and cultivate advocacy and activism. Our goal is to become a hub of advocacy for neophytes and scholars alike to each take action within their particular spheres - be they universities, elementary schools, international corporations or individual travelers. Our hope is that our property's setting - combined with the people who stay here - will create an air of inspiration that will develop into direct action for change. Advocacy leading to activism.

Public Gardens are uniquely positioned to be very effective in this new mission. Gardens have always spoken to the emotional side of people. They have been about beauty and peace. Other public gardens - each in their own ways - can and should take advantage of their innate ability to touch people's emotions and so motivate them to become activists for environmental sanity.

Around a million visitors a year come to Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Our goal is to have five percent of them visit the Tofino Botanical Gardens and the Clayoquot Field Station - only fifty thousand visitors a year. If ten percent of these visitors are "inspired" to become more active, then that's 5,000 people a year who will make efforts to protect some part of the planet we live on. With the addition of the Clayoquot Field Station, many of these visitors will have the opportunity to spend a few nights in this setting, meeting others with whom they can cross fertilise their individual insights. Our fervent hope is that these extended stays will provide the time and space to turn their inspiration into activism.

John Platenius is the Director of Programs and Development at the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation.

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