Pivoting Boxwood Blight, Part 2

This post is a follow up to an earlier story I shared about my experiences managing an urban, historic public garden that was heavily infected boxwood blight in Fall 2018. As a recap, we were able to undertake successful mitigation and adaptation of the disease by acting fast, following best management practices, tapping into the right experts, identifying all of the stakeholders and those impacted, finishing strong, as well as embracing this “disaster” as a useful platform to enhance community relationships.

Our recipe for success has many highlights: Feature stories in publications; citations in research and journals; a new network of experts who are champions of the garden and organization; new friends and donors in the neighborhood; and a new shift to environmental education-based public programming.

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But my two favorite highlights truly illustrates how one can turn a challenge into an opportunity. First, our garden is very lucky to have a local garden club who is very supportive of our work and often funds projects for us that help serve our departmental and mission goals. By putting in the effort up front to devise a well written and researched boxwood blight plan and strategy leveraging the right expertise, we were able to present a campaign that clearly listed our challenges, resource needs, timetables and expected outcomes. When the time came to present this information to the local garden club, they awarded us the largest sum to date to fund our project. This grant covered all of financial requirements to make the plan successful.

Second, I reached out to many experts on boxwood during the course of this work. This included a lot of email correspondence, site visits, letters of support, and general advocacy for the garden. I knew that in order to maximize my efforts, I myself needed to become an expert of sorts on the subject matter and be able to instill confidence in experts who were willing to spend their valuable time helping the garden. Perhaps the biggest win of this entire journey was cultivating the right relationship with Saunders Brothers Nursery, who had exclusive rights to sell NewGen Boxwood in the US– a new variety that was very resistant to blight. After a great deal of correspondence with the nursery and inviting them out for a site visit to demonstrate our commitment to fighting the disease, the company offered us 150 NewGen plants to replace the 100+ English boxwood that had been removed and needed replacement. This exchange gave our garden the distinction of becoming the first public garden in the country to plant NewGen in September 2019, as the plant would not be available to the public until Spring 2020.

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They say a true test of leadership is how an organization responds when things go awry. Boxwood blight was entirely unplanned and thrown at us during the first days of my employment, and I’d like to think it was an excellent excuse to engage with local stakeholders, learn how to ask for help, an turn a huge challenge into an opportunity.




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