Northwest Network - Spring 2015

Information in Action: Innovative Interpretation

Saturday, 21 February 2015: 9:30am-5:00pm

Bellevue Botanical Garden
12001 Main St
Bellevue, WA 98005


Morning Program:

Nancy Kartes the Garden Manager at the Bellevue Botanical Garden (BBG), began the day’s program with a presentation on the the relationship between purpose, interpretation, and mission.  In this portion of the days workshop she informed us of how to hone in the purpose your organization is pursuing when developing a particular program, and tie that purpose to your mission.  In this discussion she also gave us all good information how to get the funding you need to implemented the programs and achieve your mission.  The Bellevue Botanic Garden serves as a case study in how to realize an interpretive program that furthers your mission and serves your community well.

Nancy recommended that from the beginning that you consider how you would answer the question: “Why are we doing this and why should I care about doing this.”  It will help you explain your intended program to everyone.

Nancy based her program to make information on plants in the garden easily available, on the organization’s mission.  The BBG mission is: To display the best plants and gardening practices for healthy beautiful Northwest gardens.  To encourage visitors to participate in garden volunteerism, events, and programs that are encouraging, educational, and inspiring.

To fulfill this mission they encourage visitors in positive ways and through multiple means the staff has learned will enable their community to engage with the garden and its educational outreach.  Their goal is to attract and accommodate people of different ages, different learning styles, different technical proclivities, and different cultures to be engaged with the garden and its programs and thus be inspired to garden and do so responsibly.

One important path aiding in the realization of their mission is the use of their accessions database with its attendant plant information to give people access to information on the plants on display in the garden and enable them to find those plants in the garden.  This goal was supported by surveys they did of their visitors.  People visiting the garden wanted to know the names of the plants they saw.  The garden’s mission also gave the staff and volunteers the initiative to add photos of the plants and information on their bloom time, habit, and cultural to the accessions data base. This knowledge made easily accessible is an invaluable aid in helping the Bellevue Botanical Garden’s community to become informed, successful, and responsible gardeners. 

To gain the fiscal support needed to evolve an easily accessible accessions database with horticultural information, and plant locations, the Bellevue botanical garden staff sought funding from two sources: the city of Bellevue and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

When preparing the grants, Nancy Kartes paid attention to the missions of the funders from whom they sought support.  The city of Bellevue officially promotes a community of engaged citizens and a park system which provides opportunities to express creativity, learn new skills, and enjoy the outdoors.  It also has environmental quality goals for its population, and wants its citizens to garden responsibly.

The IMLS is committed to funding programs which enable cultural institutions to provide informal learning experiences that are inclusive and accessible.  

The appeals made to fund this program at each stage addressed the city’s interests and the funding goals of the IMLS and wove these goals into the realization of the BBG project.

This interpretive program is designed to engage visitors, giving them a positive experience of the garden though multiples layers of access to knowledge about the plants in the garden.  People are exposed to on line plant information and many types of signage in the garden.  Static signs, ephemeral signage, interactive maps, docents who answered questions.  Additionally there is an educational program which focuses on plants and how to garden with them wisely.

The first phase of this effort has been completed for some time.  The initial grant funded the creation of an information system which enabled the community and visitors to get a lot of significant information on the internet.  A GIS based map of the garden was developed and linked with the accessions database.  Thus information about plants in the garden including: photographs;horticulturally useful information such as bloom time, cultural requirements, and height and width or growth rate; and the the plants planted locations in the garden were quickly available to anyone using the internet. 

In the second phase, recently completed, this system was made more easily accessible to visitors to the garden and more beautifully presented both in the visitors center and in the garden.

In the visitors center there are two touch screen monitors for visitors to use.  The large monitors give very well designed and easy  access to maps of the garden, collections information, horticultural information and more.

The ability to access information in the database has been extend in to the garden by introducing signage placed in planting beds that facilitates visitor access the accessions database.  Thus, the information on plants, their characteristics and cultural requirements, and all their various locations in the garden are available to anyone with a smart phone or tablet (internet capable without wireless) as they are strolling through the garden. The signs are discrete and the tap and scan technology provided by Answers in Hand, gives visitors access to the plant information they desire with little detraction from their ability to enjoy the beauty of the plantings and the design of the garden.

Having completed more surveys, the staff at the Bellevue Botanical garden is now working on making some of the static signage dynamic by adding a web enable portal to some of the  static signs, often offering information about gardening or the history of the garden. There is also work being done to provide information in more than one language.

Afternoon program:

Bill McKay the owner of the business, Answers in Hand ( ), worked with Nancy Kartes on the afternoon presentation.  With Nancy we toured the installations we learned about in the morning both in the visitors center and in the garden learning about how they worked, how people were using them, and how they were maintained.  With Bill McKay we learned how the system of tap and scan signage worked.

For the Bellevue Botanical Garden Bill McKay used his software system and adapted signage so that the plant inventory, cultural information, and plant locations are all now available on smart phones and properly enabled tablets.   Bill explained the basics of how this system was configured and how it might be adapted to be of aid in interpreting public gardens.

The access point getting the “smart phone using visitor” to the information you want them to have is either a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag or a QR code.  The name for the system, tap and scan, refers to the NFC tag which you tap and the QR code which you scan.  If you chose to tap, your smart phone must be NFC enabled.  If you chose to scan your smart phone must have a application for reading QR codes. QR reading applications are are readily available on the internet and easily downloaded.  

The tags or codes are attached to the signs which are placed wherever you want information to be accessible.  Answers in Hand has worked with a sign company in Kirkland to create signs which encapsulate the NFC tags into the sign when it is made.  This ensures that the NFC tag cannot be removed from the sign by humans or weather.  The QR code is printed directly onto the sign and also cannot be removed.  Besides the tag or code you can include a logo on the sign which informs the visitor about the type of information they will find on the sign or whatever else you would like. 

To make use of the tap and scan signage for interpretation, you need not have a sophisticated web accessible accessions database.  Answers in Hand, as Bill McKay indicated, will host a database of information catered to your needs.  He has a modifiable template which you can use to create the information you want to make available for your garden or event.  He hosts the website to which the NFC tags and QR codes are linked.  

Bill indicated also that the tap and scan system can be used to facilitate the sharing of information at events as well as to aid in the interpretation of gardens.  On a garden tour the portal on a sign can, for example, introduce a garden and describe it aiding the garden creator in dealing with the visitors to he is or her garden.

Any question you might have regarding the tap and scan system may be directed to: 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

During our tour of the facilities, Nancy Kartes introduced the group to the use of the two touch-screen monitors in the visitor’s center which allowed visitors to use the accessions data base, plant information, and more.  There are memorial benches in the Bellevue Botanical Garden, the benches are marked on the GIS map of the garden.  Using these monitors you can click on the bench indicator on the map and learn about the person whom the bench memorializes.  Thus the families are able to recognize their loved ones and the garden is not filled with recognition signage.

In the garden the tap and scan bed signs are located near the paths so they are easily accessible.  They were evident yet did not distract from the plantings themselves.  The signs seemed to me to work well to enable visitors to locate plants in the plantings.  Completing a recent survey on what more their visitors would like to learn from signage, the Bellevue Botanical Garden is working to add access to information on the history of the garden and information about gardening to their NFC-QR enabled signage. 

Maintenance on the signs had not been high since the NFC tabs have  been integrated into the signs.  Without the plant names printed on the signs they have remained in place.

General Meeting

Pamela Governale, the Preservation Project Manager for the Garden Conservancy was visiting the Pacific Northwest and attended our workshop, her second workshop.  Our organization, the Garden Conservancy Northwest Network, is one of the Garden Conservancy’s Preservation Projects and it is unique among the projects  because is the only organization.  All other Preservation Projects are gardens.  Pamela indicated that the Garden Conservancy regards our organization as a significant part of the preservation program and is interested in assisting to develop other cooperative organizations similar to the GCNN in other regions of the United States.  

Progect Reports
  • Changes to the website

Website pictures have been fixed.  They no longer jitter, or scroll at warp speed.  In updating the slide show, I realized it would be nice to have some new photos. High quality would be best as several images were a bit grainy before.  It would be helpful if you could trim them to 914px by 280px with a minimum of 150 dpi.  I know this is difficult for many of you, so I’m more than happy to work with you on cropping.

To do for each member:

    • Submit one more or more image to me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
  • Garden search function

I’m eager to start up on an exciting new function for the website that would allow users to choose gardens by criteria.  If any of you would like to help be develop to the criteria. I’d welcome your input.  If not, in a couple of months I’ll be sending around a Goggle Form requesting data from each of you to help me build the fields.

  • Collaborative database

The more I work with this organization the more I’ve come to share Tanya’s dream of a    collaborative database for the website.  This could take several different directions and I haven’t decided which way to go yet.  If you have any comment let me know.  Also the following questions will be sent to you for a reply in a questioner:

    • Would you be willing to submit, say 10 plants, which are your top plants?  Let’s just say name and bloom time.
    • Do you have a plant database? 
        • Would you be willing to share it with me?
        • If so, what format is it in?
  • Document sharing

Tanya was reminding me that several members had expressed a desire for a place on the website where we could share documents.  If this is still desired, I can easily set up a Goggle Share drive where we can have these documents.  The survey will include this question.

  • Accession database project

I’m wondering if there’s anybody out there who’d be interested in partnering with me     on a project that I’m hoping to develop.  I would very much like to develop an inexpensive database that gardens could purchase to track their plants.  I think this could be a great opportunity for you to get some free software, and maybe even get your collection inventoried.  I’d be happy to provide more details.  Please contect This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested.


The Chase Garden, Orting, WA has hired two people: Carol Saynisch as Garden Manager and Outreach and Will Clausen as the Lead Gardener.

The Kruckeberg Botanic Garden Foundation is expanding their staff! They are offering three positions: Education Manager, Development Coordinator, and Visitor and Outreach Coordinator.

Ben Streissguth will be helping me with the coordination of the GCNN and also the management the website.  We are lucky to have his assistance, as he is very capable.  He is also a joy to work with.

Workshops for fall 2015 and spring 2016

The autumn 2015 workshop will be at the Lord and Schryver home garden in Salem, Oregon.  Soon you will be receiving a questioner which will aid in determining the date of the event in September-October and the topic for the workshop.

The spring 2016 workshop will be at the Powells Wood Garden in Federal Way, WA.  Soon you will be receiving a questioner which will aid in determining the date of the event February-March 2016 and the topic for the workshop.


Last update: 18 February, 2018