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Southeast Reference Garden Spotlight- Lewis Ginter Garden Explorer Makes Collections Database Public

By Grace Chapman Elton, Director of Horticulture, and Elizabeth Fogel, Senior Horticulturist

Streb Minor Gazebo, Sydnor Lake, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – Photo by Chuck Sallette.


The conifer collection at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is always growing. While the Margaret Johanna Streb Garden is our designated conifer collection, beautiful conifer specimens can be found throughout the garden’s 82 acres. Approximately 85 species of conifers, representing about 28 genera, can be found on the property. Clusters of graceful Metasequoia flank the Robins Visitor Center. A diversity of conifers dot the landscape throughout the Asian Valley. The historic Grace Arents Garden is home to several stately specimens, including a female Ginkgo planted over a century ago. Several hard-to-find species, such as Fokienia hodgensii, are on dis-play. With 82 acres to cover, recent efforts have made it much easier for visitors to locate conifers of interest within the garden.

Over the past year, staff at the Garden has been working hard to make our living collections database available to the public. We have made exciting improvements in our plant collections records and mapping and have upgraded our plant collections database to a more user friendly software. The new software, IrisBG, was made possible by a grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. This software has given us the ability to perform sophisticated analysis on our plant collections. It has also given us the ability to allow the public to browse part of the data online.

“Garden Explorer” enables anyone using a web browser on a PC, tablet computer, or smartphone to search plants in our collection by common name, botanical name, family, or location in the garden. Currently the web version shows a portion of the information in our plant collections database, including the plant’s unique accession number, full botanical name, common name and location in the garden. We are building our collection of unique photos of each plant, as well as growing information and nativity, which will also appear on the online database as it is gathered. Information such as collection sites for wild collected plants, plant source, donor information, and maintenance notes will not be published online.

Platycladus ‘Morgan’ – Photo by Elizabeth Fogel


All plants are mapped to their general area in the garden, and efforts are underway to map each woody plant to its specific latitude and longitude. Visitors in the garden will be able to view their own physical location in relation to the plant specimens that they are browsing on a digital map on their smart phone or tablet. Self-guided tours are being developed that visitors can follow to discover plant specimens of interest. All of this information is also accessible from your home PC, so you can be a “virtual visitor.” Garden Explorer has allowed us to share our plant collections with the world!

Visit our Garden Explorer website at

About the Authors: Grace Chapman Elton is Director of Horticulture and Elizabeth Fogel is Senior Horticulturist at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico, Virginia.

Excerpt from the September 2016 Southeastern Conifer Quarterly. Gain access to archives of past newsletters and the National Conifer Quarterly by becoming a member of the American Conifer Society.


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