Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Evaluation Program Receives American Public Gardens Association’s 2008 Award for Program Excellence

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Evaluation Program received the American Public Gardens Association’s (APGA) 2008 Award for Program Excellence during this year’s annual APGA conference in Pasadena, Ca. This award is presented to an APGA institutional member who has displayed a truly innovative spirit in the development of new programs and has pioneered in one or more of the disciplines appropriate to public horticultural institutions, including education, conservation, development, botany, gardening, horticulture, research, extension or administration.

“What started as a small plant evaluation program in 1982, is now widely regarded as the preeminent ornamental plant evaluation program in North America,” said Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager at the Chicago Botanic Garden. “It is also one of the few programs in the United States that formally evaluates plants and disseminates the results.”

The goal of the Garden’s Plant Evaluation Program is to determine, through scientific evaluation, which plants are superior for gardens in the Upper Midwest. Plants are rated on ornamental qualities, cultural adaptability, winter hardiness, and disease- and pest-resistance. It is the intent of the program to study and recommend plants that are readily available in area nurseries.

The results of the plant evaluations are written up by Richard Hawke in Plant Evaluation Notes, and distributed to researchers, horticulture professionals and the gardening public — reaching hundreds of thousands of readers with each issue. The Plant Evaluation Notes is the Garden’s principle vehicle for reporting results and is broadly distributed both in printed and electronic formats.

In 2006, the program’s mission expanded to include comparative trials of potentially invasive taxa such as Miscanthus and Polygonatum, the results of which will inform the public about taxa that pose threats to our natural habitats and those that are safe for cultivation.

As evidence of the program’s high regard, evaluation programs modeled on it have been initiated at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware and Atlanta Botanical Garden. This level of service to public horticulture earned Richard Hawke the Perennial Plant Association’s 2005 Academic Award for exceptional leadership in education to students, green industry members and the garden public.