KGBA director discusses future of botanical gardens

Jim Richards, Executive Director of the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, came to speak to UT students and staff about new innovations that the KBGA are developing.

//Photo by Ryan McGill

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At noon on Friday, February 5, Jim Richards, Executive Director of the Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum (KBGA), addressed a group of faculty, students and community members as part of UT’s ongoing Science Forum.

His presentation, titled “What if? The Changing Model of Botanical Gardens,” explored the shifting roles of botanical gardens and their struggle to keep moving forward despite the challenges they face, such as a lack of relevance, influence and community support, according to Richards.

“Right now, we have a limited audience made up of mostly tourists and passionate gardeners,” Richards said. “We want to broaden that audience to include more members of the community.”

He said they will do this through initiatives such as educational programs, developing staff skills and local research and creating community greening projects.

Richards says he fell in love with botanical gardens through years of visiting them all over the country, so when the city offered him the job directing Knoxville’s 47 acres of gardens, he gladly took it. Although Richards has been the director of KBGA for only six months, he already has major changes in motion for the gardens.

“We want to be able to address these topics, but have to be cautious about the potential to offend the donors who keep us going,” Richards said.

KGBA has recognized the importance of the growing commentary on environmental issues.

Recently, KGBA has been developing a bare-root plant system using gravel beds, a practice that has been widely successful in Missouri where it originated. This method allows trees to be grown extremely close together, with no soil and then to be easily transplanted to other places.

“The best thing about this project,” Richards said, “is that none of the 450 trees we’re growing will be kept at the botanical gardens— they’ll all be sent out into the community.”

“Our mission has always been growing gardens, honoring history and cultivating community, and I’m excited to be able to take the botanical gardens in a new direction.” Richards concluded.

The lecture was the second installment in a semester-long series of weekly lectures aimed at making complex scientific issues more accessible to members of the UT community.

Edited by Ben Webb.

Featured image by Ryan McGill