The State Botanical Garden of Georgia (SBG), part of the University of Georgia’s Public Service and Outreach, focuses on three main avenues to enhance conservation and biodiversity:
- Develop strong relationships among organizations to create statewide conservation
priorities and goals and restore and understand Piedmont Prairie ecosystems.
- Celebrate native plants and facilitate them growing on public lands and in private
- Develop university students and school children into environmentally conscious leaders.
The Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) was started in 1995 with a SBG staff member coordinating a small group of agencies and organizations around common conservation goals to conserve rare and endangered species. GCPA has grown organically to over 50 universities, botanical gardens, zoos, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and utility companies committed to ecological land management, native plant conservation, and protection of rare and endangered plants. GPCA members prioritize plant conservation projects, discuss results, and participate in educational symposia. Project fieldwork includes members of several organizations working side by side. In recent years the GPCA Coordinator has assisted the formation of similar alliances in several other states throughout the Southeast.
Native prairies and grasslands are home to more imperiled and declining species than any other
habitat type in the Southeast. SBG is restoring a 10-acre Piedmont Prairie ecosystem at the
garden and is a founding member of the Piedmont Prairie Partnership, a group of non-profit,
state, and federal agencies that are documenting the history of Piedmont Prairies and taking steps to bring them back.
Research and propagation of native plants has been happening at SBG for decades, but recent focus is on getting local ecotype of native plants into public lands and private gardens. The Georgia Native Plant Initiative is focused on growing and promoting common but often underutilized native plant species that enhance healthy habitats for people and wildlife across Georgia. Garden staff are developing propagation protocols, providing source material, and connecting growers with buyers to increase availability of locally sourced native plants for restoration and conservation of Georgia’s diverse ecosystems. The new Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year program will publicize native plants for home and commercial landscapes while encouraging the green industry to produce these plants for sale. Our Connect to Protect outreach program creates pollinator gardens for schools, communities and businesses to help educate the public about the importance of pollinator conservation and insect biodiversity. Garden staff members developed horticulture manuals and materials to support classes and certificate programs offered at the garden, and for green industry partners. Native plant sales educate as they raise funds for conservation programs and facilities.
In the new children’s garden, play and décor are also teaching tools. The Bones of the Giant is a walkway through a ‘fallen chestnut tree’, a visual representation of majestic native trees that thrived in this area hundreds of years ago, with signage to tell the story. The Waggle Dance uses different pollinating insects (mostly native bees) on stepping stones children follow to mimic bee communication. Many school groups come to SBG for educational fun experiences. During the fall, every pre-K and K-7th grade public school student in Athens-Clarke County visits SBG on a class field trip.
Family festivals and summer camps have been popular for decades. In 2020, students and staff created the first SBG virtual environmental summer camp. Some of these University of Georgia students were among the first Learning by Leading™ experiential learning participants, a program where students progress through levels of projects, growing leadership skills and environmental awareness. Students in the Learning by Leading ™ program come from various academic backgrounds to work alongside garden staff to co-create solutions to real world problems.
As believers in lifelong learning, the garden offers events, talks, and classes for all ages, ranging
from the annual Native Plant Symposium and Johnstone Lecture to the Certificate in Native Plants to the monthly breakfast talks and weekly nature rambles.
All photos by Shannah Montgomery, University of Georgia
Address: 2450 S. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30605
Phone: (706) 542-1244