The first reaction visitors have is exclamation. The UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County Mounts Botanical Garden dazzles and surprises. My wow! moment was the Mexican papyrus, and my wife Kay’s was the baobab tree.
Then comes visitors’ second reaction, a question: Where can I buy that plant? The staff is only too glad to refer buyers to local FNGLA nurseries and landscape companies.
Many times, an FNGLA professional is already there in the Garden. In fact, says Laura Corrigan, the FNGLA Palm Beach County chapter president and supervisor at Brandon Balch Landscapes, she and her colleagues regularly bring clients to Mounts so they can show instead of just tell them about plant and landscape possibilities.
Corrigan set up an FNGLA table at the recent Mounts Plant-a-palooza plant sale, fielding questions from visitors and sending them on their way with brochures and information. FNGLA members also stepped up as financial donors to boost Plant-a-palooza’s profile and success.
It’s the latest example of collaboration among FNGLA, UF/IFAS Extension, Palm Beach County government and Mounts which underpins the Garden’s success. Rochelle Wolberg, who runs Mounts day-to-day for Palm Beach County, recently renewed Mounts’ lapsed membership in FNGLA.
Before the pandemic, Wolberg, Corrigan, Rice and the Palm Beach County Farm Bureau board (on which Rice serves and Corrigan served until recently) had been planning a Mounts nursery day which would include a green careers event for university students. The planning will resume once the pandemic subsides.
Mounts creates an experience for the visitor, and I have to confess mine was one of pride in the UF/IFAS connection as Wolberg gave me a tour. In fact, the connection goes back nearly 80 years when the county’s first agricultural agent, Marvin “Red” Mounts, established a demonstration fruit orchard which expanded into what we know today as the botanical garden. I have visited more than 30 Extension offices as of this writing, met many horticulture agents and seen a lot of demonstration gardens. Mounts is the Extension garden gold standard.
The Extension mission of Mounts gives it a practical purpose underneath its aesthetic appeal. It’s a showroom for industry. Wolberg insists locals can grow 95 percent of what they see in Mounts right in South Florida, whether in a five-acre landscape or on a condo balcony.
The Mounts staff’s nationwide network of botanical garden professionals makes them great sources of information for FNGLA member businesses looking for emerging trends in consumer preferences and early detection of plant disease threats.
It’s telling that Wolberg’s title is “curator-director.” The Garden is run as a museum, with a rich archive of plant material which can be rotated on and off display. It even hosts art installations, blurring the line between greenhouse and gallery.
Presenting plants in a museum-like setting allows the plants to tell stories, at least 25 of them. That’s how many gardens are within the Garden—rose and fragrance, Florida natives, dry stream bed, butterfly, light tropical shade, even vegetable.
We want to make the Mounts story even more powerful. Our goal is to secure abandoned property from the state to expand Mounts’ footprint and build a welcome center and horticultural education center.
Partnership will be essential in making the expansion possible. UF/IFAS, county government, FNGLA and a botanical garden together can tell the story of how a bigger Mounts tells a bigger story, a story of how to get to a greener world.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).