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From the Director

Michael McKechnieExecutive Director Michael McKechnie
By building partnerships among diverse organizations, focusing on creative programming, and establishing the right priorities, Executive Director Michael McKechnie has managed the successful growth of four vital nonprofits and served on the governing boards of a number of research, fundraising and civic organizations where he has provided governance, financial, and strategic planning oversight.

Technology Helping our Garden Grow

Dear Friends,

GIS Team

GIS Team

Secure Donations through Network for Good Plant Collections Department

Plant Collections Department, from left to right: GIS Manager Steve Gensler, Curator Don Mahoney, Associate Curator David Kruse-Pickler, Plant Collections Registrar Mona Bourell, Curatorial Assistant Marc Johnson, Curatorial Assistant Olivier Thériault, GIS Field Coordinator Mark Miller.

There is simply nothing more basic to the mission and viability of any museum than its collection.  From the collection comes research, public education, preservation and, of course, beauty.  Over the last 10 years the Society has put in place a plan to carefully build our collections management department to match, over time, the demands of the diverse material the Botanical Garden stewards. I have long believed that one of the best ways to sustain a collection is to know what you have, where it came from, what its ethnobotanical uses are or were in each culture, and under what conditions each plant and plant community thrives.

With 55 acres, 50,000 individual plants and more than 8,000 taxa knowing what we have is a huge undertaking. Unlike other types of museums, specimens in our collection grow, die, become unhealthy or completely disappear.  Like other museums, we are adding to the collections every day, sometimes substituting one more suitable plant for another that better meets collections criteria, or tells the "story" more clearly, or simply grows better.  Many years ago, the painstaking process of documenting plant material in our collection was done by hand.  Then came AutoCAD drawings that allowed curatorial staff to input data in a more efficient way.  However, all botanical gardens of any size have long wanted a more interactive and robust method of tracking collections, one with greater flexibility and additional layers of uses.

To the rescue comes Global Positioning Systems technology.  Now with a one-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences the Society is embarked on a project to use this innovation to track – eventually – every plant of whatever size in the Garden.  It is a huge undertaking, and we only have enough funding to complete 5 gardens or about 20% of our acreage this first year.   We have assembled a highly skilled and creative team to make this year count.  Soon a visitor will be able to photograph an identification tag on any given plant with her or his cell phone and all the information we have in our database about that plant will be available instantly to that visitor.  Think of the research applications for this as well.  Researchers wanting to compare elements of our collection with theirs can do so on the spot, in the field.

Add to this technology the fact that our Curatorial Department has completed a 50-year tree canopy replacement plan to continue the beautiful and essential tree canopy in the Garden, some of it 130 years old, as it continues to age and die of disease, or fall victim to winter storms.  This plan will inform those replacements with guidelines that support the educational and collections criteria for that specific garden within the Botanical Garden.  When these new trees are but seedlings the GPS system will catalogue where they are, when they were planted, where they came from, and whether they were wild collected.

I have never been prouder of our smart and hard-working curatorial team headed by Dr. Don Mahoney, a much-loved veteran of 25 years in the Garden.  They continue to amaze me with their enthusiasm, knowledge, and willingness to share information with the public.  In fact, to that last point, we will institute Garden Walks and Talks for Strybing Circle members that will allow them direct insight into the collections, their importance globally, and how they are obtained and maintained.

The Society's Board of Trustees, ever mindful of the need to conserve financial resources in these demanding times, have done all they can to assure this work goes forward.  I hope you, when asked, will also contribute specifically to this effort this year.  Our collections depend on philanthropy, and I can think of no finer way to give this year than to assure that our collections will be secure for another 70 years.

Warm best regards,


Michael McKechnie
Executive Director, San Francisco Botanical Garden Society


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