Please see below, which is pasted from the letter sent out by the Gardens. This must not stand. I hereby pledge $200 as a donation to the Gardens, and urge everybody who reads this, even if you do not live in Mobile, to pledge $25 or $50 (or, obviously, much more if you can).

Meanwhile, I call on the City Council and the mayor as a stopgap matter, to amend the budget currently under consideration in the following manner, in order to keep the Gardens operational through at least year’s end.

First, recognize that the city collects $9,800 in sales tax from events at the Gardens. Considering that this is city-owned land that the Gardens management has kept up, and improved, for 45 years, the city should rebate that $9,800 to the Gardens.

Second, do the math. The city originally put up $5,000 for annual operations in 1974. That is the equivalent of $27,529 in today’s dollars. The city should thus bump its contribution by the amount of the difference.

This is a city with a 10 cent sales tax, which essentially is the highest in the nation. It has been spending $21 million a year on “infrastructure” projects that it can’t even contract out fast enough to spend it. Surely the city can find,within that $21 million, enough to cover the full $27,529 plus the $9,800, for a total of $37, 329. Do that now and it will cover nearly one-fourth the projected $150,000 shortfall for the next year. That will get the Gardens through December.

Doing that will buy the Gardens time enough to try to figure where to get the other $110,000. The best idea is to ask people with grant-writing experience to VOLUNTEER to pursue grants for the Gardens.

Meanwhile, again, please read the full information below.

It is an embarrassment to the city that our lawmakers cannot fund something like this, to care for city property.

I don’t know much of anything about gardens, flowers, plants, and trees. But I can say this: The Mobile Botanical Gardens are a jewel, and just a month ago when I was there, I was saying they had never looked better in all the many years I’ve gone there, several times a year, just for relaxation.

The city must step up to the plate. If it doesn’t, their dereliction will be shameful.

Read below, and also see the web site.

== Quin

MBG Home

 

For 45 years, the Mobile Botanical Gardens has kept the doors open and made huge improvements without a sustainable funding model. As the fall of 2019 approaches, that hand-to-mouth existence has reached a tipping point. MBG cannot continue on this path. Its future depends on the MBG owner and stakeholders doing the hard work of creating a sustainable funding model to preserve this beautiful 100-acre resource for our community.
Right now – Mobile Botanical Gardens asks for your help in expressing your support for improved funding from the City. Please write Mayor Sandy Stimpson, your City Council member, and the MBG Board and Staff leadership to ask for their commitment to work on a sustainable funding model for the MBG. (Their contact information is listed at the end of the fact summary below.)
Read on — some or all — to better understand.
HISTORY
  • The Mobile Botanical Gardens was established in 1974 on City leased land in the heart of the Spring Hill community and consists of 35 acres of Longleaf pine conservation area and 65 acres of special gardens and nature trails.
  • A history of MBG, written by Maarten Van Der Giessen, follows this fact summary.
WHO SUPPORTS MBG?
  • Over 7,000 hours of volunteer support annually for MBG operations, plant sales and special events (equivalent of 3.5 full-time volunteer staff)
  • Membership contributions total $60,000 in 2019. 185 new members (a 15% increase since 2018) have joined MBG in the last 12 months.
  • Mobile City Councilwoman Gina Gregory (District 7) has supported MBG by using community investment funds of $312,019 to cover funding gaps and special capital needs over the past 3 years.
  • MBG Partnerships include the American Horticultural Society, Mobile County Master Gardeners, Gulf Coast Herb Society, International Camellia Society, Alabama Camellia Society, Camellia Society of South Alabama, The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Forestry Commission, Longleaf Alliance, Coastal Alabama Botanical Artists Association, Writers in Nature, Mobile Area Backyard Chicken Club, Palm Society, Girl Scouts of South Alabama, (just to name a few)
  • Over the years MBG has benefitted from funding support from JL Bedsole Foundation, Glaze Foundation, Monte L. Moorer Charitable Trust, Munson Foundation, M. W. Smith Jr. Foundation, Crampton Trust, Sybil Smith Trust, Mary Josephine Larkins Foundation, Daniel Foundation, Martin Family Foundation, Days Trust, AL Forests Forever Foundation, Lillian McGowin Foundation, Hearin/Chandler Foundation, PNC Bank, Regions Bank, Cole Foundation Trust, CFSA (Community Foundation of South Alabama, and Lillian Woolford Charitable Trust (to name a few)
  • MBG has never looked more beautiful or had more active programming than it does now. The states of Georgia, Missouri and Texas all have botanical gardens of similar sizes and the cost of their operations ranges from $1.6M to $42M (yes, forty-two million). In the state of Alabama – Huntsville Botanical at 112 acres has an operating budget of over $3M. The MBG annual budget of $500,000 is quite lean by comparison for the annual upkeep of 106 acres and the public programming offered.
WHO BENEFITS FROM MBG BEYOND THE MEMBERSHIP?
  • 4,000 non-member adults from all parts of the US and internationally paid $5 admission to the MBG design gardens in 2019 ($20,000) – their children under 12 entered for free. Reciprocal program visitors from all over the US visit free of admission and represent another 3500 folks and their kids. And we can’t say how many enjoy the trails of the 35 acre Longleaf we manage — open free to the public 365 a year.
  • Thousands of visitors come to the MBG each year to attend events, classes, plant sales, visit the gift shop, enjoy a Friday lunch or walk through the garden rooms and collections
  • Numerous clubs and organizations meet and hold events at MBG: The MBG Botanical Art Sketch Club, Writers in Nature, Mobile County Master Gardeners, The Girlscouts of South Alabama, Camellia Society of South Alabama,  Gulf Coast Herb Society, Palm Society, Mobile Area Backyard Chicken Club – just to name a few.
WHO OWNS THE PROPERTY?
  • This 100-acre property is owned by the City of Mobile.
  • In 1974, the city of Mobile entered into a lease with the South Alabama Botanical and Horticultural Society to create and operate the Mobile Botanical Gardens.
  • The non-profit MBG has made over $1.2 million in capital improvements (3 buildings, multiple greenhouses, parking lots, over 700 linear feet of walkways and pathways, and the planting of thousands of specimens on the grounds) over the last 45 years.
  • The City contribution to MBG began at $5,000 per year in 1974 and remains at that level today, after 45 years.
  • The City alone receives an average of $9,867 in annual tax receipts based on sales of plants and other merchandise at MBG.
COST OF OPERATING MBG
  • On behalf of its citizens, the City of Mobile owns our version of Central Park and pays $96 per week towards its upkeep. Other City-owned assets are supported at much higher levels by the City.
  • Operating costs for the Gardens are $9600 per week, of which the City provides $96.
  • The MBG Board and Director continue to ask the city to increase their funding position from the current 1% to a 30% position (from the current $5,000 to $150,000), reflecting City ownership of this horticultural jewel in the heart of Mobile.
  • With the City’s encouragement, MBG took over an adjacent 6 acres in 2019 (former City greenhouses) that had to be cleared and rehabilitated through the haul-off of eight 30-yard dumpsters of debris, removal of derelict buildings and the stabilizing of the area with tons of sand and rock at a cost of $23,000 to which the City contributed $0.
  • MBG annually raises upwards of $250,000 (through Plant Sales, Membership, admissions, events, tours & classes, gift shop and Friday lunches) and receives contributions in the neighborhood of $100,000
  • Our annual costs include: $92,000 for collections maintenance, mowing, mulch, fertilizer, fungicides and herbicides; $130,000 for personnel to maintain the grounds; $110,000 for operations personnel; $24,000 payroll taxes; $33,000 for commercial insurance, licenses and taxes; $50,000 for utilities and facilities maintenance/support; $18,000 for greenhouse expenses; $25,000 for marketing, educational signage and public outreach; $18,000 unforeseen due to lightning, vandalism, other.
  • Funding Gap: $150,000
  • Funding Gap Consequence: MBG director and non-grounds staff have foregone their salaries to keep the gardens operating and maintained at a high level for as many as 8 weeks annually. Volunteers and donors have stepped up at crucial times by making additional gifts. This is not a sustainable funding model.
TODAY’S MBG: COLLECTIONS AND PROGRAMMING
  • Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest, one of the last remaining stands in the city and the largest urban fire managed in the south
  • Millie McConnell Rhododendron Garden
  • Dr. Eugene Aromi Azalea Legacy Garden
  • Kosaku Sawada Winter Garden of camellias designated as an International Camellia Society Garden of Excellence
  • John Allen Smith Japanese Maple Memorial Garden
  • Areas dedicated to pollinators, fragrance and texture, herbs, hiking trails.
  • Arts play a role in the Garden mission where painters, writers, and photographers find inspiration.
  • Two groups affiliated with Mobile Botanical Garden.
  • A Garden Sketch club with botanical art classes taught by Derek Norman, a renowned botanical artist.
  • A writing group led by Alabama Poet Laureate emeritus Dr. Sue Walker, Inspiration is found for painters, writers, photographers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
  • Today, the City holds a 100% ownership position and a 1% annual funding position in the Mobile Botanical Gardens. Community funders, members, volunteers, individual donors, and staff going without pay cannot sustain the operations of the garden without the City of Mobile consistently participating at a higher level financially.
  • Closing Mobile Botanical Gardens and leaving 100 acres in the heart of Mobile uncared for and unsecured is not a good option for our community. Discussions need to take place between the City and representatives of the MBG to secure the future of this rich historical asset which belongs to the city of Mobile and her residents.
  • As E.O. Wilson has observed, “The city of Mobile sits in the middle of the biologically richest part of North America.” Surely preservation of these gardens, their longleaf pine forest, and the thousands of specimens that have been planted there for public education and enjoyment is achievable for our community.
Letters may be mailed to City officials at:
P.O. Box 1827
Mobile, AL 36633-1827
Or email:
Mayor Sandy Stimpson
Fredrick D. Richardson, Jr., District 1
Levon C. Manzie, District 2
C.J. Small, District 3
John C. Williams, District 4
Joel Daves, District 5
Bess Rich, District 6
Gina Gregory, District 7
Mobile Botanical Gardens
2019 Executive Board
Dr. Jack DiPalma, President
Linda Guy, VP Horticulture
Brenda Bolton, Secretary
Colleen Keleher, Treasurer
Robin Luce, Past President
Robin Krchak, Executive Director
Mobile Botanical Gardens – Two Steps Forward…
By Maarten van der Giessen, President, Van Der Giessen Nursery, Inc.
A common theme of writers is whether the difference between reality and a dream is the number of people sharing the dream. It is certainly the dream, and not harsh realities, that has kept Mobile Botanical Gardens open.
It began as an idea from Mobile’s finest horticultural minds. Tom Jr. and Bill Dodd of Tom Dodd Nurseries, Pat Ryan of Bellingrath Gardens, horticulturalists from Spring Hill College, botanists from the University of South Alabama, landscape engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, all had one vision: Let’s build a garden for Mobile. It wasn’t just a garden, either. It was envisioned as a shining star that would lead Mobile into a new era of civic life, an educated era where these venerable minds could share what they had learned about horticulture. That is to say, what they had learned about life.
They incorporated the South Alabama Botanical and Horticultural Society in 1971. The Langan Park, a 720-acre longleaf pine savannah with a large clean lake, seemed to be the ideal spot. Located in the Springhill Community, the land had originally been set aside as a buffer to protect Mobile’s water supply. The city agreed to lease 100 acres to the Society in 1974 and the transition from dream to reality was begun.
The founders immediately planted large areas as camellia, native azalea, holly, and fragrance gardens. In 1979 concrete paths crossing a small Japanese-style bridge were poured to build what was envisioned as the fragrance and texture garden.
Of course, with dreams eventually come nightmares. For the Botanical Gardens, 1979 would be two steps forward and Hurricane Frederic – a giant step back. Frederic devastated Mobile. Mobile devastated Langan Park. The debris from a million trees was staged in the open areas of the park until the time they could be disposed of properly. In addition, a drainage main in the neighborhood above the Gardens blew out. It created a twenty-foot-deep ditch three hundred feet long across the entrance to the Gardens. Still the Gardens endured.
Funding for the Gardens was envisioned as grants, contributions, and a bit of help from the City of Mobile. By spring of 1976 it had become obvious it would take more. The first plant sale to support the Gardens was held in Floyd McConnell’s yard adjacent to St. Ignatius Church on Springhill Avenue. By 1982, a fall plant sale had become necessary to fund the Gardens. It was barely enough to get by.
The decade between the late 80’s and early 90’s was something of a dark time for the Gardens, a fitful dream as it were. Greenhouse production was run by the Mobile County Master Gardeners organization to help with funding. Some progress was made. The Gulf Coast Herb Society built a new herb garden, designed and installed in 1996 by Plauche and Johnson Architects, but the Gardens themselves faltered. The city provided the Gardens with $5,000 a year, the county gave them $2,000. Everything else it took to keep the Garden open had to be raised by the citizens of Mobile. Weeds ran rampant in the holly garden, the Shropshire nature trail was often closed by falling trees and eroding paths. Without proper horticultural supervision, the camellias were limbed up to allow the mowers to cut underneath, and finally the native azaleas were pruned back to three feet with plastic placed beneath them to hold back weeds. The Gardens were indeed rolling in their sleep.
It cannot be stated enough. The Gardens survived, as they survive today, due to the passion of the people of this city. In 2002, the Gardens found funding from local philanthropic groups and got back on its feet. The Larkin Educational Center was built that year. In 2005, the John Allen Smith maple garden opened. In 2006 the Gardens hired horticulturalist Marion Drummond as executive director. Things were improving dramatically. Within the next two years both the Millie McConnell azalea garden and the K. Sawada WinterGarden were completely rebuilt and held the finest collections of those two groups of plants in the South. Fire was reintroduced to the long neglected longleaf pine forest. What had been a tangle of privet and cogon grass became home to over 300 species of native plants. Mobile had created the largest urban longleaf pine forest in the US, which was declared a Treasure Forest by the Alabama Forestry Commission in 2010. The K. Sawada WinterGarden received the prestigious International Camellia Garden of Excellence award from the International Camellia Society. The Gardens were beginning to show what the dream could be, and with that, it showed what Mobile could be.
By 2014 the Gardens had tripled in size of cultivated areas. It was declared by Tom Johnson, director of Magnolia Plantation Gardens as “A Garden to Watch” at the Garden Writers Convention in Atlanta that year. Still, unseen by the public eye, it was in crisis.
Funding the Gardens had become unworkable. The Gardens had gone through three directors in ten years trying to find a way to make it all work. The funding from the city remains at $5,000 per year, but the Gardens now has a budget over a hundred times that amount. The City Council representative for Springhill, Gina Gregory, had done what she could to help keep the doors open, but in spite of the dedicated management of Director Robin Krchak, and the best intentions of the volunteers, the Gardens remain on the brink.
Inevitably, it is for the citizens of Mobile to decide. A botanical garden teaches people how to grow, what to grow, where we are, and who we are. It is without politics and simply dedicated to making Mobile a better place to live. For Mobilians the question is “If we are not to dream, to what will we awaken?”
As always, we thank you for your continued support and interest in the Gardens.
Mobile Botanical Gardens | 251-342-0555 | E-mail | Website
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