Dorothy E. Hansell Marketing Award
Naples Botanical Garden received the coveted American Public Gardens Association Award for Garden Excellence in 2017. We were the youngest garden ever to be awarded this national honor, and the Garden began planning celebrations with our volunteers, donors, members, and community. But Mother Nature had other plans…
On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island and tore through Naples. The damage was significant, but thankfully not catastrophic; however, every area of the Garden was impacted, 500 trees were down, and in total we lost over a third of our plant material. The storm decimated the Garden’s beautiful tree canopy, leaving surviving shade plants exposed to the elements, vulnerable to sunburn and drought. Plant debris could fill two football fields at six feet deep presenting a significant fire risk. All of our shade houses were damaged beyond repair. And while the Chabraja Visitor Center thankfully did not suffer any major structural damage, fallen trees destroyed lighting, signage, electrical systems, and irrigation lines.
When it was safe to return to the Garden, staff, volunteers, experts from botanical gardens across the country, and complete strangers showed up to raise the trees we could save, replant what had a chance at survival, and clear threatening debris. In total, over 200 large trees were able to be raised up, staked, and pruned. And, it wasn’t long before they began to sprout new leaves.
In the midst of the immediate clean up and recovery efforts, expenses were quickly surmounting for costs not in our budget. Decisions were made to commit significant resources to secure the help needed, such as renting cranes and hiring tree companies and equipment operators, to save the most valuable of the plant collection. Garden leadership rallied to create an organized effort to raise support for these costly efforts and the Replant and Regrow campaign was formed. Staff remained committed, positive, and focused on bringing the Garden back for the community.
Three weeks to the day after the storm, with its public areas now tidy and safe, the Garden reopened with free admission and welcomed nearly 2,000 visitors, bringing the Garden back to life and returning a sense of normalcy to visitors.
The Garden is striving back toward our award-winning status thanks to the Replant and Regrow campaign. Collections are being rebuilt and recently we broke ground on a new horticulture campus. Partnerships with peer gardens, both in the US and Caribbean Basin, are growing and thriving as plants are collected and traded in an effort to rebuild our collections.
A couple of weeks after Irma dealt her blow, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm. When the Arboretum Doña Inés Park in San Juan, Puerto put out the call for help, there was no question: it was time for us to pay it forward.
Or, watch the video on YouTube here!