The University of Washington is bravely taking on the historically important issue of discrimination and botanical gardens. It brilliantly noted that in the past only rich white people had access to botanical gardens and even to this day they dominate them just like their imperialist ancestors.
Unfortunately, the history of botanical gardens is that they were frequently curated through theft and offensively renamed before they were contributed to cities and universities as gifts.
University of Washington Botanic Gardens (UWBG) director Chistina Owen courageously stated the ugly truth about these beautiful spaces: “Plants and collections that exist throughout the world were collected in ways that did not honor the people and did not honor the plants themselves. They’re driven by the colonial age. That’s a history that all gardens must grapple with.”
To make amends for this horrible history, one of Owen’s goals is to hire a more diverse staff. Of course, the top leadership will remain white, but having some new nonwhite staff will be major progress.
UWBG started a new program called Conversations with Staff where they have meetings about a particular social justice topic such as the “colonial past of botanical gardens, segregation in Seattle and problematic plant names.”
It is about time the brutality of botanical gardens is exposed. No longer should they be about fun, aesthetics, and science. It is 2022 and they need to take on social justice. Much respect to UWBG for taking the lead on this.