Gardens plant future seeds

Sydney Smith

Although recent budget cuts will be more than a minor problem for the future of Reiman Gardens, the administration and staff are determined to forge through the obstacles to deliver their famous yearly garden displays.

In a recent meeting, administrators of Reiman Gardens met to discuss both short-term and long-term strategies for the facility, as well as the restrictions the budget will impose on those plans.

The long-term plans are focused on updating the master plan, said Lisa Orgler, assistant director of Reiman Gardens.

“We’ve changed our mission to educate, enhance and inspire about environmental stewardship through displays of living beauty,” Orgler said.

With these pointed values in mind, the master plan for the gardens is to “incorporate sustainable concepts so [Reiman Gardens] can become a showcase for Iowa to show how we can all be more sustainable in life,” Orgler said.

Each year, Reiman Gardens chooses a theme to base their decorative displays around. Past themes included “Art in the Gardens” and this year’s “Excellence in Bloom.” This coming year, the planned theme will showcase examples of the ways literature and gardens are intertwined with each other.

Nathan Brockman, curator of the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, said the garden will feature a wide assortment of literary styles.

Such themed attractions include a “Moby Dick” setup in the Margaret E. Penkhus Campanile Garden featuring a willow-branch sculpture of a whale that children will be able to climb on to. Also in the works is a comic-book display that will characterize certain insects as comic-book characters, with panels that describe insects’ behaviors in a comic-book style. Other literary foci encompassed within the tentative plans are Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and “Little House in the Big Woods.”

The displays will begin this year but will be more widely visible by April, Brockman said.

The annual themed displays, among other unique aspects of Reiman Gardens, are setting examples to other gardens across the nation. The gardens have won numerous awards, and staff members have been invited to speak to conferences about their practices in locations such as England and Washington, D.C.

However, Reiman Gardens faces the irony of being in the national spotlight and not being able to get the word of the theme change out. The shrinking budget has placed a severe hold on the marketing funds available. Orgler said she estimated that the marketing budget is currently less than a quarter of what the gardens have comfortably operated on in the past.

Employees are being creative with their frugality, practicing in-house printing and relying heavily on volunteers. They are relentlessly pulled by planning and the need to raise funds.

Orgler said that, despite difficulties, the administration is excited for the intended plans.

“We’re not just sitting back,” she said. “We’re planning for the future.”