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Hybrid venture growing Botanic Garden’s reach

Fort Worth Botanic Garden repairs

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden needs about $15 million in repairs that have been deferred according to director Bob Byers.
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The Fort Worth Botanic Garden needs about $15 million in repairs that have been deferred according to director Bob Byers.

It is a simple idea just coming into full bloom.

Earlier this year the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) agreed to a landscape-changing partnership by agreeing to combine their education and volunteer services to better serve Fort Worth by building on the strengths of both institutions.

Appropriately named GROW, the new program offers expanded camps, field trips and workshops for children, teachers and adults that focus on the importance of nature in our lives.

Just as significantly, it joined the forces of two Fort Worth institutions – the city-owned Botanic Garden that opened in 1934, and BRIT, a nonprofit research facility established in 1987 — in a collaboration that is planting seeds for a brighter tomorrow for the aging 110-acre garden.

Put simply, BRIT now shares more than just a parking lot with the gardens.

So how does this new community garden grow?

In less than a year, overall attendance at the garden’s educational programs tripled. It accomplished that feat by serving a broader, more diverse visitor base. Over 30,000 people were served through GROW, compared to roughly 10,000 the previous year when BRIT and the Botanic Garden offered separate educational programs.

By working together, the two organizations brought in more than 12,000 elementary school-aged children — almost double from the previous year. They attended programs like Bella’s Book and Nature Club, which sparked their curiosity in nature and their love for literature.

For families with small children, classes such as Little Sprouts allowed them to get hands-on gardening experiences with their little ones.

Outreach for middle-school and high-school students saw their enrollment blossom. STEM-U, for example, encouraged teenagers to find solutions for global plant conservation using coding, microscopy and digital databasing. More than 1,000 teachers participated in professional development, including Teacher Tuesdays: How Does the Garden GROW, a three-part series that helps educators see how the garden can be an extension to the classroom.

For adults who like to get their hands dirty, over 100 new classes were offered in topics from gardening to botanical art. Responses to these classes was overwhelmingly positive, from the participants to the organizations working together to produce them, helping BRIT forge deeper ties with groups like the Tarrant County Master Gardeners and the Fort Worth Garden Club.

Digging even deeper exposes another sign of GROW’s success.

Volunteers contributed an additional 4,000 hours of service while revenue hit $835,000, exceeding expectations by 25 percent. A portion of that additional cash came in the form of grants from charitable foundations supporting GROW’s mission. Bringing in additional revenue makes it easier for the garden to offer free programming, thus improving accessibility.

In the coming weeks, including at its meeting on Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council will give thoughtful consideration to the Botanic Garden’s future. We need to look at this educational partnership as a road map on how to improve operations that will include BRIT’s role in this beloved 80-year-old garden and how it can better serve the greater Fort Worth community. A lot of work remains to be done.

GROW shows what can happen when a garden is cooperatively tended.

Sheila Hill is a member of the Botanic Garden Strategic Plan Task Force as well as a former chair of the Fort Worth Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.
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