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Climate Adaptation & Risk Management


Preparing for climate change is one of the most important things a garden can do to safeguard plant collections and people from hazards. The ability of a garden to anticipate, adapt, and flourish in the face of climate change will help preserve plant species. Climate Adaptation & Risk Management focuses on adapting to rapidly changing ecosystems. The socio-economic impacts of climate change continue to grow incrementally with each event. Higher temperatures, changing landscapes, rising seas, increased risk of drought, fire and flood, stronger storms with greater storm damage, increased heat related illness and disease and higher economic losses are all directly related to climate change. Climate Adaptation & Risk Management will not prevent the effects of climate change, but can drastically reduce the impacts upon people, valuable infrastructure, and plant collections.

Increasingly, science and historical trends are able to illuminate the causal relationship between climate change and increased intensity and frequency of disasters. These trends coupled with site specific data can provide gardens with insights on potential impacts to specific buildings, transportation route disruptions, and landscape devastation. Resilience planning can be hard to justify, particularly when changes may be gradual, but necessary now that numerous gardens and communities have previously and recently been affected by climate change. 


Making the Case:


There is a concern that climate change may cause some plants to bloom when pollinators are not present, particularly in the early blooming season. This is known as phenological mismatch. Other possible climate impacts to plants could include changes in plant stress, fruit or seed productivity, plant growth or susceptibility to diseases and pests. In addition, wheat, oats, and barley are some of the grains that provide a majority of calories in diets worldwide. More research is needed to fully understand the effect climate change has on these plants that we rely on for survival and well-being.


"There's a very good basic operational need to understand climate change and adapt to it. If you're taking the step of adapting to it hopefully you're on board for mitigation as well. I think that's crucial to get across in messaging issues like water conservation, damage from changing frequency and severity of storms, all of these things have a direct consequence to the operational realization of the institution."

~Head of Science, Royal Botanical Gardens


"What we have here is a very precious resource that will become scarcer and scarcer over time, that resource being elevated land. In fact we have a point on the property, which is either the highest point, or tied for the highest point in the whole county."

~Executive Director, Montgomery Botanical Center   


"Now more than ever public gardens must seriously take climate change into consideration as part of strategic planning.  Climate change must be a priority in the planning, development and management of our living collections as well as a significant focus of our education programs.  We must also prepare for the impact it will have on our gardens and our communities.  Now is the time for serious discussion, planning and action."    

~Executive Director, Dawes Arboretum


"I think the era of gardens just solely being places of relaxation, and beauty, and enhancement to societal culture are over, I think the responsibilities that public gardens hold to society are growing greater by the day, and I think that public gardens need to look beyond living collections. They need to look beyond traditional educational models, they need to look beyond traditional community outreach to figure out how they are going to become more meaningful, and more well-rounded contributors to the benefit of their communities, and I think that they should also look at ways that they can address the community needs on more practical levels as well, instead of esoteric."

~Deputy Director of Horticulture and Urban Agriculture, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens


Goal 1: Assess short and long term climate related threats to people, plants, and infrastructure.

Goal 2: Extend strategic plans and significant budget related planning to anticipate climate change impacts.

Goal 3: Build adaptation strategies that address collections, design, maintenance, interpretation, programming & training.

Goal 4: Address climate threats with emergency planning, operational protocols, and appropriate design.

Goal 5: Implement conservation and mitigation strategies to preserve irreplaceable garden assets. 


UN Sustainable Development Goal 13-Climate Action:

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Planetary warming continued in 2016, setting a new record of about 1.1 degrees Centigrade above the preindustrial period, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016. Drought conditions predominated across much of the globe, aggravated by the El Niño phenomenon In the Statement, WMO also noted that the extent of global sea ice fell to a minimum of 4.14 million km2 in 2016, the second lowest extent on record. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels also reached a record high of 400 parts per million that year. Mitigating climate change and its impacts will require building on the momentum achieved by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which entered into force on 4 November 2016. Stronger efforts are needed to build resilience and limit climate-related hazards and natural disasters.



1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 




1.  Investigate and Establish a Baseline


Use the Climate Adaptation & Risk Management Self-audit worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


Every garden, regardless of their mission needs to consider conditions that can exacerbate hazards to employees, visitors, and their living collections. NOAA defines climate stressors as prolonged events such as consecutive days of rain and heat waves. One way to identify potential climate stressors is to identify previous weather and climate-related events or disasters in your region. Think of all the factors that played or could play a role in causing damage to your garden. The following questions should be considered as part of an initial self-audit for Climate Adaptation & Risk Management:




  • Does your gardens strategic plan or mission related directives factor in climate change 30, 50, 100 years down the road?
  • Does your garden consult your state climatologist, NOAA, or other external resources for data collection and assessment tools?
  • Does your garden engage academic institutions for climate-related research purposes?
  • Does your garden compare your climate adaption plan and emergency planning with other gardens or conservation organizations in your region?
  • Does your garden conduct a vulnerability assessment of existing assets? If not, has your garden viewed a range of external vulnerability assessment reports in your region? (See link at bottom of this section).
  • Does your garden work across disciplines to gather opinions from professionals in climate science, horticulture, arboriculture, restoration, urban planning, and other relevant experts in their field that can provide valuable insight? 
  • Does your garden follow guidelines or plans established by FEMA, NOAA, NWS, or your city’s Office of Sustainability?
  • Does your garden have adequate staff numbers to maintain and monitor plants and infrastructure threatened by climate change?
  • Does your garden use unusual weather events in your region, past and present, as a launching pad for discussion on climate adaptation initiatives (strategic planning)?
  • Is your garden built on a landfill or other historic infrastructure that might make it more susceptible to climate threats?
  • Does your garden plan on updating existing plant collection policies to include climate adaptation strategies?




  • Does your institution’s disaster plan address living collections?
  • Are you aware of any pests and diseases or invasive plant species breakouts in your region in the last 5 years? What percentage of your collection has been evaluated for invasiveness potential? Has your institution adopted the invasive plant species Voluntary Codes of Conduct? (changes in climate can increase invasiveness potential).
  • Does your garden have strategies to preserve valuable germplasm (exceptional species) that may be lost in the event of significant natural disturbances (e.g., gene baking, seed banking, cryo-preservation, micro-propagation)?
  • Does your garden have a process for prioritizing collections (accessions) in anticipation of natural disasters? 
  • Does your garden have plant labels such as anodized aluminum that are less likely to melt or be damaged due to extreme weather?
  • Has your garden researched innovative methods to plan for, model, and anticipate changes to your landscape?
  • Has your garden added climate risk into your cyclical review processes for living collections?
  • Does your garden have a plan for anticipated natural disaster impacts to managed natural areas (e.g., recreational areas and trails)?
  • Does your garden have a verification process that documents plant record names and identities digitally (taxonomy and nomenclature)? How often do you conduct field inventories of your collections and update the records? When was the last inventory conducted? What percentage of the collection has been verified?
  • Has your garden researched complimentary collections holdings at other gardens using resources like the Plant Collections Network?
  • Are accessions backed up elsewhere on site or at another garden? Does your garden maintain replicates in a seedbank or genebank?
  • Does your garden have plant records that are currently maintained in a computer database? What software is used? Are these records accessible online? 




  • Has your garden trained any staff members as a First Detector through the Association’s Sentinel Plant Network?
  • Does your garden have educational and interpretive programming on climate stressors and their impacts to your garden? 
  • Does your garden have staff trained and educated in the most recent climate change science methodologies and research tactics? If not, has your garden considered collaborating with external partners for this purpose (e.g. universities/colleges, other garden professionals, consultants)?
  • Does your garden communicate climate adaptation strategies and information (signage/panels, tours, press releases, audio tours)?
  • Does your garden communicate climate adaptation strategies and information using online and digital platforms (social media, podcasts, videos) to reach a broader audience ?
  • Does your garden use cutting edge technology (e.g., specialized glass-production greenhouses) to curb greenhouse gas emissions? 
  • Does your garden have trained professionals in GIS or consult GIS professionals to map, model, and store data on climate concerns?
  • Does your garden consider impacts to managed natural areas in educational programming that engages the neighborhood, city, and region?
  • Does your garden have a climate change focused demonstration garden? (See Resources and Case Studies Section)




  • Does your garden have insurance coverage for recovering losses from weather related events?
  • Has your garden appraised your infrastructure and living collections on your property for insurance purposes?
  • Do any of your garden’s financial resources address climate adaptation and risk management?
  • Has your garden considered applying for grants for climate resilience purposes (green infrastructure, etc.)?
  • Has your garden considered renovating or building facilities with climate adaptation in mind?
  • Does your garden have insurance in place to cover the cost of restoring plant records? 
  • Does your garden have Data Breach/Cyber Insurance?
  • Has your garden investigated recovery opportunities from FEMA? 
  • Does your garden have a Disaster Recovery Plan? 
  • Does your garden have a Crisis Management plan? Is it funded by insurance?




  • Does your garden provide training to all staff members for climate-related emergencies (e.g. storms, fires)?
  • Has your garden used NOAA Weather Ready Nation or other educational programming to assist in planning and responding to weather related events?
  • Is your garden ADA approved and do you take steps to ensure trails, walkways, and boardwalks are regularly reviewed for safety purposes?
  • Does your garden have the ability to provide safety (shelter, provisions) to visitors, employees, and community members in the event of a climate-related disaster?
  • Has your garden modelled your climate preparedness plans/documents after an existing process such as AAM or other local emergency guidelines?
  • Does your garden have a complete and updated inventory of your current infrastructure above and below ground (power lines, lighting systems, etc.)?   
  • Has your garden established a chain of command for emergency scenarios?
  • Does your garden currently have plans for protecting and moving staff and visitors in an extreme weather event? If so, have these plans been disseminated and are they regularly reviewed?
  • Does your garden have an Emergency Response plan? 
  • Has your garden identified and trained staff to be first responders?
  • Has your garden invited local first responders to your site so they are more familiar with the landscape in the event of an emergency?


Vulnerability assessment reports can be found here:[0]=field_content%3ARisk%20/%20Vulnerability%20Assessments



2. Identify Stakeholders


"There is a good chance that other institutions have already prepared for, or actually been through, whichever climate change related event you’re in the process of planning around. If your institution is in the early phases of climate change preparedness, reach out to those who have similar conditions, or have experienced fire, drought, flooding, etc. There is a lot to learn during a catastrophe, and many of us are interested in sharing."

~Director of Horticulture, Brooklyn Bridge Park


"To develop the broad support necessary to implement a resilience-building project, successful projects recruit stakeholders with diverse perspectives early in their process, and actively engage them throughout the process. When initiating a project, leaders focus first on stakeholders' common values and shared understandings, and build on those to set new goals. Experience shows that community-based projects have an increased chance of success when all stakeholders feel that they can contribute to the solution and benefit from the results."                                                                             

~US Climate Resilience Toolkit


No matter which vulnerabilities you choose to tackle while working on Climate Adaptation & Risk Management for your garden, the process will be a group effort. The right first step is identifying the people who should be involved in the process. Consider that the success of an action plan will involve the ability to manage for change and monitor and evaluate those changes. It’s important to involve people from the bottom-up, so that everyone in your garden is on the same page. When you have a list of potential team members to help establish a baseline, collect data, and implement a plan of action, be sure that you have a diversity of perspectives, including tolerance for change.

All stakeholders’ concerns need to be heard from the beginning. Before digging into any type of formal assessment, find out what your individual group members are concerned about. Record these thoughts. You will come back to them when you are further in the process to make sure everyone’s ideas were evaluated based on goals and climate data collected. Here are some initial questions every garden needs to consider:

  • Does your garden engage donors (previous and recurring), visitors, community members, or external organizations and agencies (NOAA) on climate adaptation strategies and emergency planning?
  • Does your garden work with other gardens in your region to collaborate on climate adaptation strategies and emergency planning?
  • Has your garden reached out to gardens with similar collections holdings (particularly exceptional species) and infrastructure to develop and learn about mitigation strategies and successful collaborations (e.g., Consortium of Coastal Parks in NYC after Hurricane Sandy-See Resources and Case Studies Section)?
  • Is your garden independently owned or co-owned?  If co-owned, how are decisions made when facing climate crises?
  • Does your garden have a team or individual/single department that is evaluating your climate adaptation and mitigation strategies?
  • Does your garden speak with scientific experts and/or municipal leaders in your community and region to determine how they are responding to climate change threats?
  • Does every department or division head have a seat at the table when discussing climate adaptation and risk management? Who is being left out of the conversation?
  • Does your garden update climate prepareness and emergency plans, procedures, and policies annually or every 5 years? If so, what stakeholders are involved in this revision process?



3. Data Collection/Resources


Start out by collecting essential information that you may not have already. This can include where pipelines are buried, where powerlines are in relation to your property, or even sources of water nearby. From there, your garden can begin to collect data that will illuminate both a potential problem and a related garden goal. Work across departments when necessary in order to create a complete picture of existing assets and how things may have already begun to be impacted from climate changes (dry spots, flooded/saturated areas, etc.). For data collection and resource purposes you should categorize and start collecting data on the most essential assets: plants, people, and infrastructure.




  • Has your garden considered trialing eco-adaptive species? 
  • Does your staff track where regional breeding for adaptability is being done?
  • Does your garden use GIS or other database tools for centralizing data and communicating information about where everything is on your property including the location, topography, and elevation of living collections and infrastructure?
  • Does your garden use temperature data for strategic planning (e.g., where you are planting future collections)?
  • Does your garden have soil profile data?
  • Does your garden have staff that go out and take samples at different dry and/or saturated areas and take GPS coordinates of those areas for tracking/monitoring purposes? 
  • Does current plant collections management include selective planting and removal to increase adaptive capacity?
  • Does your garden utilize climate models (internal or external) to determine the risk of disease or pest infestations, loss of land, floods, sea level rise, and wildfires?
  • Does your garden track where invasive plant species are manifesting in your region or on your property?
  • Does your garden use historical climate data and information to build off for future planning and education?
  • Has your garden experienced a natural disaster previously (e.g. tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, severe storms) to evaluate lessons learned and what areas of your garden were damaged most/least?
  • Has your garden identified which plant collections are at the highest and lowest elevation of your property (valleys, floodplains, etc)? 




  • Does your garden have an updated map of all existing and past infrastructure that can be annotated as part of emergency plans and procedures for staff and visitors?
  • Does your garden have several contingency plans specific to severe weather threats that are common in your region? 
  • Does your garden have signage that details where and what exits to take, location of safe havens, and other safety concerns in the event of a natural disaster?
  • Does your garden have an alarm or sound system in place that can alert your visitors and be heard or seen anywhere on your property so that they know to evacuate immediately? (e.g., has your garden tested emergency systems such as fire alarms?)
  • Does your garden provide WIFI on any part of your property so visitors and employees can be alerted, access, or share information via mobile devices (e.g. severe storm warnings)?
  • Does your garden know where the safest exits are should an emergency occur?
  • Does your garden have a map of where you can access water in a fire emergency?




  • Has your garden identified what buildings and infrastructure on your gardens property are the most vulnerable to climate stressors (e.g., a building at low elevation)?
  • Does your garden use GIS or other database tools to track, communicate, and centralize data on the location of infrastructure (e.g. pipelines, lighting systems, powerlines)?
  • Does your garden strategically plan where future buildings and facilities will be placed with climate as a main consideration?  
  • Does your gardens plans for new infrastructure involve long term climate prediction models?  
  • Has your garden considered installing weather stations/microstations or ground sensors on any portion of your garden for data collection purposes?
  • Does your garden know what percentage of surfaces on your property are impermeable (e.g., parking lots, pathways, driveways, etc.)?
  • Does your garden track changes to land cover (e.g., development that decreases permeability, loss of canopy, construction projects that disrupt natural drainage patterns)?
  • Does your garden have an updated map of all buildings, structures, and infrastructure above and below ground (pipes, wires, wells, etc.)? 



4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action


"Capture the sequence of milestones necessary to complete your project, and then assign roles, responsibilities, and sufficient resources (time, money, expertise, etc.) to complete them. Ensure that those who have responsibility also have the authority to make and implement decisions."

~US Climate Resilience Toolkit


Developing and implementing a plan of action to address Climate Adaptation & Risk Management requires a thorough understanding of where your garden is most vulnerable to climate stressors and how you plan to address that. A plan of action should include what you predict will occur within your gardens boundaries over the short and long term. Rare and historic plant collections may need to be prioritized for protection in anticipation of future disaster events. It’s important to be prepared and have a plan of action that includes future loss of land surface, an inability to expand plant collections, reinforcing or building more resilient infrastructure above and below ground, and coordinating at all levels of governance, to ensure that your garden can adapt to predictable or unpredictable climate patterns.




  • Put together a list of actions that were taken from previous severe weather events and identify important lessons learned and what climate adaptation strategies need to be prioritized in the future to better protect people, plants, and infrastructure. If your garden hasn’t experienced a natural disaster, adopt and conform aspects of other gardens natural disaster preparedness plans and climate adaptation strategies to formulate your plan of action (See Resources and Case Studies section).
  • Form strategic partnerships with outside experts, relevant plant societies, and other public gardens to maximize plant collection climate adaptation strategies and ensure their longevity. 
  • Establish a list of climate induced stressors relevant to your region that you need to plan for (e.g., salt water intrusion, fire).
  • Create a contact list of emergency services that may be called to action during and after a natural disaster.
  • Identify, share, and adopt your local or regional government emergency preparedness documents (e.g., Office of Sustainability). 
  • Create a central database for data and research that your staff can easily access to learn and share updates on climate adaptation projects/strategies.
  • Make sure your action plan includes several contingency plans (e.g. meet up points, access to radios and training for communication, nearby facilities for shelter).
  • Build, maintain, and design plant collections and infrastructure with climate adaptation in mind. Start by ranking the sensitivity of your assets as high, medium, or low. This could include a rare and historic plant collection that’s irreplaceable or an historic sculpture or building that cannot be restored if damaged. Evaluate the risk climate poses to your most vulnerable assets. Consider the magnitude of the potential loss, financial and otherwise and include this in your plan of action. Ensure that your garden assets are appraised and covered by an insurance plan.
  • Establish a tracking system for records and documents of all existing plant collections, keeping data and information stored on and off site (accession numbers, herbarium, DNA tissue, germplasm, GPS locations). Ensure you have paper and electronic versions of your data, research, and important records, reports, and documents. This should also include tracking every single expense and the categorization of those expenses. FEMA requires very detailed paperwork of expenses so it's crucial to not lose track of those financial accounts. 
  • Take soil samples in different areas of your garden to establish baseline data and to compare to post-natural disaster events (salinity, biology). Have a detailed map of all infrastructure and plant collections for post-storm or natural disaster assessment.
  • Coordinate “living shorelines” with other conservation organizations, garden volunteers, and staff members to foster use of green infrastructure (e.g. coral reefs and mangrove wetlands) instead of or in addition to grey infrastructure (e.g. bulkheads, stone rip-rap). Restoration ecology projects can reinforce river and coastal processes for climate adaptation purposes. Wetland restoration provides flood protection, reduces the size and erosive power of waves along the shoreline of an estuary. In addition, floodplains can divert, hold and slow floodwaters, reducing risks to downstream communities. Preserving or restoring wetlands, floodplains and other natural systems can be less costly than building and maintaining structures of rock, steel and concrete. This also provides wildlife habitat and improved water quality and is more cost-effective and less time intensive. Green projects that primarily involve the protection of an existing natural system, can potentially be completed more quickly than alternatives requiring major construction.
  • Modify existing public outreach, education and engagement programs at natural areas to include climate change mitigation and adaptation messaging and volunteer opportunities to enhance green infrastructure that will facilitate climate change resilience and adaptation.
  • Create teams and team leaders for each department that are in charge of leading aspects of your emergency disaster plan and can meet annually to discuss revisions. Assign duties in case of emergencies (e.g. storm team).
  • Determine which stakeholders and staff will be involved in short and long term monitoring. Be sure that those involved are able to participate in tracking areas of specific concern to them and can commit to the amount of time and energy needed to follow through in the process. Following a specific risk or vulnerability from the project conception through the solution will enhance meaning and satisfaction for staff.
  • Install climate change panels that are informational on what to expect in 2030, 2050, or beyond. Panels should include detailed information such as: days over 90 degrees, days of rainfall over one inch, an increase in the frequency and duration of heat waves, annual temperature rises, average annual precipitation increases, etc.  
  • Designated staff members should begin recording weather data for educational and research purposes. There are a variety of methods to collect informative weather pattern data: installing weather stations, micro-stations, sensors, working with NOAA and your state climatologist on utilizing the latest technology, partnering with climate science departments at your local universities, etc. This data can inform horticultural management strategies, enhance record keeping, and facilitate comparisons with field observations. This information is highly valuable for both mapping climate patterns over time and for locating areas of the landscape where planting specific plant species improves their chances of survival.




  • Be aware of all the invasive plant species in your area, what’s on the watch list, and what’s in surrounding states. Create a monitoring checklist with photo clues so your garden can easily recognize when there is an invasive plant species breakout on your property. If invasive plant species are identified, use this as an opportunity to educate your visitors about how climate change is causing these species to migrate out of their normal range and what implications that could have at your garden and the surrounding community.
  • Seed banking and collections networking is an excellent long-term conservation method for plant species that are susceptible to climate change. Compile information for rare plant species in threatened natural communities and develop adaptation plans that include seed bank repository collection and registry of living collections for documentation in the Plant Collections Network (PCN) and BGCI's initiative.
  • Monitor phenology (timing of life cycle events such as first leaf and first flower) of targeted plant species for protection against climate stressors. Collect data for visual modeling purposes and analysis and inform the public about the effects of climate change on plants. Collecting data on phenology also serves an inclusive and educational purpose engaging those in your region to participate in citizen science projects such as the USA National Phenology Network (see Engagement, Outreach, Education Attribute).
  • Model how your plant collections will be affected under changing temperatures in your region, include this in your educational programming. Conduct research to determine best seed sources for restoration projects taking into account predicted temperature changes, soil, and precipitation.
  • Consider implementing in vitro conservation of germplasm such as cryo-preservation and micropropagation. There are several advantages associated with in-vitro germplasm conservation:
  • Large quantities of materials can be preserved in small space.
  • The germplasm preserved can be maintained in an environment, free from pathogens.
  • It can be protected against nature’s hazards.
  • From the germplasm stock, large number of plants can be obtained whenever needed.
  • Obstacles for their transport through national and international borders are minimal. 
  • Foster collaboration between plant record specialists and other horticulture staff and scientific experts and outside consultants to develop appropriate policy guidelines and decision frameworks that are designed to anticipate changes 15 years into the future and beyond. When creating plans and policies, keep in mind SDG 13  (Climate Action) and the associated targets and indicators for 2030. 
  • Work with utility companies, consultants, operations, maintenance, and design and planning staff to redesign or build greener infrastructure that is more climate resilient: green walls, permeable surfaces, green roofs, stronger and more efficient pipelines, stone rip rap and other engineering strategies designed to slow down or mitigate sea level rise.
  • For gardens in a coastal region, conduct a sea level rise audit for your plant collections, think about which plants and infrastructure occupy space that could be inundated more regularly over time, and ultimately completely inundated, and what the time horizon would be for that. The plan of action should focus on protecting and potentially replacing those collections.
  • For gardens in fire prone states or areas: Establish and maintain fire breaks, identify water supply points, select fire tolerant tree species, identify monitoring points on elevated land, and be prepared with communication equipment to prevent catastrophic fire spread. Train staff members on fire suppression tactics. Educate your visitors on the importance of fire as a tool for the growth and health of many plant species and the role it plays in many forests and ecosystems. Follow fire-wise landscape and development guidelines. There are several resources for different applications. 
  • Perform regular biological inventories (especially for gardens with natural land holdings) as part of generating historical records for documentation. 
  • Create climate change focused demonstration gardens, controlled temperatures in greenhouses that simulate what the projected environment will be in the future alongside interpretation to provide a living illustration of plant responses to temperature changes (See Resources and Case Study section).
  • Provide interpretative components at your garden that educate the public on adaptive plant research, phenology, and USDA zone changes relevant to your state.
  • If your garden has the resources and part of your mission is outwardly focused (ex situ conservation), play a leadership role in your community (municipal landscapes, urban trees, establishing native plants in parks).
  • Become a host site for further public and collaborative discussion on climate change: events, symposium, workshops that focus on climate adaptation strategies and safety protocols.
  • Review and update your plant collection policy every 5 years. This is essential for plant acquisition and collection management planning. 
  • Establish professional development trainings on risk management, plant documentation, and climate change education.
  • Document through photography, video and other media platforms natural disaster impacts to your garden to create an archive of what has been damaged historically and to share with the public so they can see visually what has happened and what may continue to occur. For future public engagement this will allow your garden to create a timeline of various events that have changed the way your landscape and garden functions. 


5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


Because climate stressors can occur gradually or rapidly and on a small or large scale, gardens need to continuously monitor and reevaluate their plan of action to ensure success. Goals and objectives are likely to change due to unpredictable scenarios. Projects might be sidetracked due to lack of financial resources or changes in priorities. Whatever the case, make sure to revise your plan of action when altering ways you collect data and engage new stakeholders.  

  • Plan of action documents should be considered living documents. Update your plan to reflect changes in financial resources, workforce, recent natural disturbances, and predicted climate-related events.
  • Revise how the identified actions will occur within a timeline, particularly as new events and projects are scheduled and put into action. Implement plan of action in phases and revise based on feedback from stakeholders.
  • Evaluate whether your entire workforce is provided opportunities to share new ideas and information.
  • Consider how to continue to cultivate buy-in and demonstrated engagement from the most influential staff members who have been part of all steps in the process.
  • Create a Logic Model or a Schedule of Completion in order to record intentions and project beyond immediate shorter term budget documents and plans.
  • Continue to evaluate garden interpretation programming on climate change.
  • Update and revise your strategic plan and plant collections policies every 5 years depending on recent climate related events.
  • Review and update your emergency and safety protocols and disaster preparedness documents annually.
  • Regularly monitor new or reinforced infrastructure for living collections.
  • Consider all material assets such as: sculptures, ornamental fountains, and rare plant species and evaluate ways to protect and decrease their vulnerability to climate stressors.
  • Maintain thorough records for accessioned plants tracking what, where, and how plants were obtained, their garden location, and any conditions regarding their acquisition, use, or distribution.
  • Ensure on-going research and study of phenology to assist in documentation and education of climate change impacts.


6. Report, Communicate, and Educate


Gardens in regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change can provide valuable information on Climate Adaptation and Risk Management (e.g. gardens on the coast or on islands). These gardens can educate the public and other institutions that may face similar adversities in the short or long term future. Public gardens have a profound impact on the way visitors perceive climate as a threat to their natural environment. Reporting, communicating and educating on climate adaptation strategies plays an instrumental role in preparing people and protecting valuable ecosystems on a variety of climate stressors across the world. 

  • Report achievement(s) in garden publications, social media, and on your online website regarding climate adaptation projects for living collections and infrastructure.
  • Document adverse impacts from natural disasters through photos, videos, and other media platforms. Reporting loss of plant life and infrastructure is just as valuable as reporting moments of achievement in your gardens history. This is a way for your garden to convey the seriousness of climate change and the ways the public can help build a more sustainable future with you.
  • Communicate via interpretive walks and educational programs the importance of climate adaptation. Educate and engage the public through tours, displays, panels, exhibits. Update your educational programming to inform the public how your landscape has changed due to past climate-related events and what projects you have in place now or in the future that will make your garden more climate resilient.
  • Continue educating and training your staff to remain well-informed regarding climate change issues, solutions, and research.
  • Collaborate with community members and partner organizations to get the public involved on climate adaptation projects.
  • Through public engagement and marketing and communications online, establish events and other ways to procure funding for infrastructure projects that will help make your garden more climate resilient.
  • Keep partners and donors informed about your progress and any changes to your strategic plan and plan of action.
  • Share a vulnerability assessment report with internal and external stakeholders. Collaborate with other gardens and partner organizations to share lessons learned from natural disaster events and to highlight significant elements to consider in emergency preparedness documents.
  • Utilize historical records (land surveys, plats), photos (landscape, aerial), and other forms of reference data and information to formulate your action plan. Historical records and data from previous natural disturbances and events can show how your landscape has changed overtime and can provide valuable information. It can also become a part of your garden’s story and dictate future programming and interpretation. Panels, displays, and tours can educate the public about what your landscape looked like historically compared to today. Additionally, it can become a way for gardens to forecast how the landscape may look in the future based on this history and the most recent scientific research. This could include actions your garden can take to offset or avoid future catastrophic events and volunteer projects the public can get involved with. Below is the kind of citizen science project your public garden can engage in and use when formulating a climate adaption strategy:


7. Resources and Case Studies


The Association Garden to Garden Disaster Response Center:


Adaptation Workbook and Associated Resources:


U.S. Global Change Research Program:


Coastal Resilience, Community Resilience, State Adaptation Plans:

Coastal Resilience Index: A Community Self-Assessment

Value Chain Climate Resilience: A Guide to Managing Climate Impacts in Companies and Communities

California Adaptation Planning Guide: Planning for Adaptive Communities


GIS for Public Gardens:


Institute of Museum and Library Services (grant options):


AAM Resources:




Drought Information System:


Programs, Tools, Networks, College/University Affiliated Sites:




EPA & USDA Resources:

Being Prepared for Climate Change: A Workbook for Developing Risk-Based Adaptation Plans 


BGCI Resource:


Association Resources:


APA Hazards Planning Center:


NOAA Resources:

Preparing Venues and Large Events for Severe Weather

RISA: This page is a companion to the Climate Resilience Toolkit and includes sections for "news and features," "maps and data," and "teaching climate". In addition find case studies and evaluation tools:

Find Experts:  On the Climate Resilience Toolkit is an experts section which includes several climate partners. 

American Association of State Climatologists (AASC):  Great resource for collaborating with  State Climatologists.  While they each have their own web page, access to each of them can be found through their association website.

Regional Climate Centers: Each RCC has data, tools, and information specific to their region, including some tools geared towards agriculture/horticulture interests.

National Weather Service

CoCoRaHS: A citizen science precipitation network.   

NCEI: In addition to historical data and tools, their team publishes monthly and annual climate monitoring reports. 


Published Journal Article on evaluating tree species for climate mitigation purposes:


The Value of Coastal Wetlands on Flood Damage Reduction in the Northeastern USA:



Marianne E. Krasny and Keith G. Tidball, Civic Ecology: Adaptation and Transformation from the Ground Up




The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Tommy Rosenbluth:


Case Study 

Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

Water conservation is the top priority for this 38-hectare (94 acre) garden. With climate change predicting Melbourne to become much hotter and drier, executives at the garden are building a water-use plan to match the 2090 climate projections for the area. Efforts toward water conservation have already started with the garden’s Working Wetlands project. The Working Wetlands are man-made wetlands designed as floating islands that are small enough to fit in a large pond or small lake. These mobile wetlands can then be moved by motorboat to areas in need of remediation, or lifted out and transported to another body of water.

The Working Wetlands are part of the garden’s efforts to use stormwater runoff from the city to irrigate their collections. When it rains, stormwater throughout the city is diverted to the streams and ponds at RBG Melbourne, where the wetlands remediate the water. Once clean, the water can then be pumped through the garden’s irrigation system. In addition to their environmental benefits, the Working Wetlands also have significant economic value. Reusing stormwater decreases the garden’s dependence on buying potable city water for irrigation, lowering costs for the garden and as well as reducing demand on the city’s supply of drinkable water.

Designed to be a beautiful addition to the garden’s waterways, the Working Wetlands are an environmentally and economically responsible way to help RBG Melbourne adapt to the climate risk in its future.



The Arnold Arboretum 

Collecting detailed weather data has been an ongoing interest at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, MA for nearly a century. Over the years, various departments and members of staff have observed and documented weather on the grounds, particularly in terms of plant hardiness, microclimates, seasonal plant phenology, and extreme weather events. Collection procedures have ranged from daily handwritten observations to highly automated systems that broadcast live weather data online.

Staff began recording weather data in 1965 from a weather station installed at the Dana Greenhouses, a practice which continues today. In 2011, a new weather station was added at the Arboretum at the Weld Hill Research Building. With the ability to report and share information online, precise weather data can now be obtained by anyone with access to a computer or mobile device. This diagnostic tool is a useful resource for staff and the visiting public, providing a highly localized and robust picture of weather patterns.

This data can inform horticultural management strategies, enhance record keeping, and facilitate comparisons with field observations. The station utilized by the Arboretum features a highly modular design allowing for seamless integration of a wide variety of climatic sensors. Currently these sensors monitor temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, rain, leaf wetness, solar radiation, soil temperature, and wind speed and direction.

In addition to their central weather station, the Arnold Arboretum gathers data from 18 micro-stations dispersed throughout the landscape. These micro-stations were installed in 2008 to help identify microclimates on the grounds. This information is highly valuable for both mapping climate patterns over time and for locating areas of the landscape where plants of marginal hardiness may be sited to improve their chances of survival.



Cornell Botanic Gardens

Cornell Botanic Gardens is a public garden established as an educational conservatory for the University’s botany students in 1875. Situated adjacent to Cornell’s Ithaca, NY campus, the gardens serve to fulfill the educational mission of the university through horticultural displays of herbs, native flora, ornamental annuals and perennials, trees from around the globe, a shrub collection, and a vegetable garden. In May of 2014, Cornell Botanic Gardens installed a climate change garden with the intention of increasing visitor understanding of the phenomenon (Cerra, Wien & Skelly, 2015). Conceptually simple, the garden allows visitors to see and feel an approximation of the environmental impacts of climate change, as it is projected to advance in upstate New York by 2050.

Twelve paired beds are situated symmetrically, six inside and six outside of a high tunnel (Figure 1). Each planted bed in the high tunnel has a twin located just outside of the structure. The additional heat in the high tunnel shifts emergence, growth rates, phenology and availability to pollinators enough that a casual observer might distinguish noticeable variations between one bed and its pair on the outside of the structure.

Figure 1: The Climate Change Garden. Photo courtesy of Josh Cerra

A series of five primary signs have been placed through the garden, drawing visitors through the space with explanations of what the viewer is seeing and how the garden should be “read.”  Additional signage identifies plants and allows visitors to note and leave their impression of the garden on a whiteboard stationed next to the exit. Other signs are used to draw the attention of the visitor to challenges a plant type may face with projected climatic projections. 



Trustees of Reservations: Notchview Reservation

The Trustees are working with a consulting forester to develop a ten-year forest stewardship plan for Notchview Reservation that will incorporate climate change adaptation as one component of management.

The single largest property owned by The Trustees of Reservations, Notchview Reservation includes more than 3,100 acres of forests, wetlands, grasslands, and early successional habitats. The property’s size, particularly when considered with its continuity to the Windsor State Forest (>1,500 acres) and the Moran Wildlife Management Area (2,447 acres), provides a vast expanse of relatively unfragmented forest that is critical habitat for wildlife and forest-interior birds. With an average elevation of approximately 2,000 feet, Notchview experiences a colder climate than much of the region, allowing for the existence of boreal species – and is threatened from the changing climate. The prevalent northern hardwood-red spruce forest contains some mature stands and pockets of rich soil which support a greater diversity of vegetation. The reservation includes a variety of wetlands including fast-running streams, beaver impoundments, forest seeps, vernal pools and large expanses of forested swamps, shrub swamps and sedge meadows. Large areas of grasslands, including hay fields, pastures and old fields, provide both valuable habitat for grassland wildlife and pastoral views. It is an important cultural, scenic and ecological landscape that is treasured by thousands of visitors. Given its setting and significance, Notchview offers an opportunity for the Trustees to both explore and demonstrate stewardship that creates and maintains a resilient forest landscape in a changing world.

The Trustees’ goal is to manage Notchview’s forest habitats as a healthy, climate-resilient forest that provides diverse wildlife habitat and natural communities, as well as recreational opportunities and other ways to engage the public. To help achieve this long-term management goal, The Trustees will engage a consulting forester to develop a ten-year forest stewardship plan for Notchview.  The forest stewardship plan will outline the goals and objectives for managing the property’s natural resources and will help The Trustees chart how to address threats to the forest resource such as the emerald ash borer, non-native invasive plants, and climate change. 

The following are objectives for Notchview forest stewardship plan that will incorportate cliamte change:

  • Plan for climate change adaptation of the forest, including boreal, northern hardwoods, and other forest types.
  • Incorporation of current climate change tools and approaches such as those outlined in Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers published by the US Forest Service.
  • Designate areas to develop into late successional forest (old growth) requiring minimal management beyond invasive species control.
  • Plan for impacts on the forest from emerald ash borer and other forest pests, including preventing safety hazards along the trail system if the emerald ash borer begins to kill ash trees.
  • Develop recommendations for forest management to benefit our recreational opportunities (skiing, biking, nature watching).
  • Identify priorities for invasive plant control that will benefit the resiliency of the existing forest or prepare for development of early successional habitats.
  • Better understand the forest resources on the property and how to make them more resilient to climate change.