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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: EDUCATION AND VISITOR SERVICES AT THE U.S. NATIONAL ARBORETUM
2009 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
To provide a center for education, orientation, information, and interpretation on the research activities, natural areas, and living displays of the National Arboretum for the benefit of the people of the United States.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
To provide formal and informal educational programming through exhibits, signs, publications, web pages, lectures, workshops, and tours; to orient visitors; to convey USNA accomplishments through media outlets; to coordinate public functions; to maintain a mission-related library; and to coordinate volunteer and internship programs.


3.Progress Report
Education and Visitor Services for the U.S. National Arboretum. The unit works to transfer the research findings of the arboretum’s scientists and horticulturists to a broad audience of local, regional, national, and international groups, including professionals and the general public, through various media, including a wide range of educational programs (symposia, workshops, classes, demonstrations, etc.), tours, exhibits, web pages, a horticultural library, and interpretive products (brochures, signs, recorded tours, etc.). This year, the unit contributed editing, design and fabrication oversight for two temporary exhibits, one on new introductions from the nursery industry and one on how to create a bonsai. We partnered with the Potomac Bonsai Association to hold a weekend-long bonsai festival, which featured nationally recognized bonsai artists. Media contacts resulted in FOX 5 reporting live during the bonsai festival; an article on the flowering cherry tour in the official Cherry Blossom Festival calendar magazine, a public radio spot on USNA research, and numerous mentions of programs and events.

The unit also assumes primary responsibility for the services extended to the almost half-million visitors to the institution’s 446-acre site in northeast Washington, D.C.; these include daily staffing of an information desk, an information resource center staffed by a librarian, and assistance in reserving indoor and outdoor spaces at the arboretum’s D.C. campus. The unit supports the work of the research and gardens units by coordinating a volunteer program (127 regular in addition to one-day volunteers contributed approximately 10,000 hours) and an internship program (10 part-time and full-time positions) and by providing image collection documentation, storage, and retrieval. New image management software allows on-line searches that will also be available on-line through the arboretum’s web site.


4.Accomplishments
1. Encourage Sustainable Gardening Practices. The arboretum wished to increase the educational value of the gardens surrounding the highly visited administration building and to promote sustainable gardening. To accomplish this, the unit collaborated with the gardens unit to create a lobby and garden exhibit that showcased more than 50 new ornamental plants. Staff identified promising cultivars and requested donations from nurseries. The objective of the exhibit was to inspire gardeners to diversify their plantings by selecting attractive, fool-proof cultivars whose reduced requirements for water and pesticides contribute towards more sustainable gardening practices.

2. Promoting the Practice of Bonsai. Many visitors to the arboretum’s National Bonsai & Penjing Museum believe that the art of bonsai is too complicated for them to try it. To dispel this misconception, the unit collaborated with the assistant curator of bonsai to create an exhibit that presented a step-by-step process for creating a bonsai. Large-scale images clearly showed how the curator transformed a crapemyrtle shrub into a bonsai. The practice of bonsai helps teach the principles of horticulture as well as promoting appreciation for the value of trees and other plants to humans.

3. Energy-saving Irrigation. The arboretum seeks ways in which to both reduce its use of energy and to teach others how to add sustainable practices to their landscape. As part of an agreement with The Research Foundation of State University of New York (RFSUNY) to collaborate on alternative energy projects, the unit partnered with RFSUNY’s Alfred State College to hold a week-long workshop that taught landscape and irrigation professionals as well as homeowners how to design and install a solar-powered irrigation system. The workshop resulted in the installation of such a system in one of the arboretum’s research fields and will be presented through future workshops as a model for alternative power sources for both large- and small-scale irrigation systems.

4. Improve Visitor Services. The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum is the most visited collection at the arboretum yet lacks interpretive and wayfinding signage. The unit led the effort to create a master plan for this signage by working with a landscape architect to design and seek approval for a plan detailing the locations, design, and materials for a unified family of sign elements. After the plan is approved, interpretive content will be developed that will teach visitors about the history and horticulture of bonsai.


Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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