Editorial: Cherish Garden’s Success Through New Seasons

Saturday, October 19, 2013, Vol. 6, No. 43

Our landmarks are changing.

Before you rally the troops, book a court date, summon outrage or give a sigh of inevitability, this is a good thing. Our context is the 60th anniversary of the Memphis Botanic Garden, which began with 2,500 donated iris rhizomes in 1954 under the name Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden. Much has happened since then and the garden reflects not only how we have changed as a city but how institutions like civic gardens can struggle to keep their relevance and their support.

Plants and trees and tranquility aren’t as easy as they might seem. But the effort is worth it to continue the evolution of this place, to watch the seasons change in solitude or celebrate them in gatherings, like the annual concert series that is about to get a permanent stage. As the years move on, the elements of the gardens will change continually. The changes beyond the seasons reflect the changes of who we are as a city. Someday the tried and true tunes that are a staple of the concert series will seem quaint and of another era. And maybe those who come to the garden then will see old photos and marvel at how informal or formal we were back at the start of the 21st century and what came after our time – our season, if you will.

And hopefully they will have made the garden a place for their times.

It can always be an important and enduring confirmation of our place in the world. So often that place is defined in trade figures, cargo tonnage at our ports and our airport, the gross domestic product. The Botanic Garden offers a more human perspective on that.

It was about a year ago that three new Yoshino Cherry trees were planted in the Japanese garden, direct descendants of the cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington. With that gift, 10 more cherry trees for other parts of the garden as well as the city were donated by Chihiro Kon of Hokkaido, Japan, who came to Memphis last fall to mark the donation. But more importantly she came to visit her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter living on Mud Island, where several of the donated trees were also placed.

What prompted her gift was the memory and desire to sustain a memory of kindergarten children she led in Japan who each year would plant the trees. She wanted her family in a far away place to see the trees in their daily life. Others, of course, see the trees and bring their own memories and associations. And someday a grandmother who has grown up with her own childhood memories of the cherry blossom trees here will give a similar gift somewhere else in the world. That is how landmarks are built and endure even when their foundations shift, their walls crumble and the seasons change.