We’ve never met Jim Duncan but we’re indebted to him.
He retired earlier this month as executive director of the Memphis Botanic Garden after a decade of leadership.
The transformation of Memphis Botanic Garden’s 96 acres during these 10 years is one of the most impressive – if not one of the most underappreciated – successes of a Memphis amenity.
The poster child for us of this remarkable place is not the concert series but My Big Backyard, where children (and parents and grandparents) get the chance to run, jump, get wet, dig, discover, and have fun in whimsical settings that never fail to trigger our imaginations. The 16 different themed areas could just as easily be in New York City or Chicago and it’s always a delight to visit it and realize it is here.
The iconic red Japanese bridge remains a favorite photo op, but the 23 specialty gardens offer special pleasures. Never in the history of Memphis Botanic Gardens have they been as well-maintained. The new herb garden features more than 500 types of herbs. There’s a Level 4 arboretum – the highest designation – and the hosta trail is recognized as one of 15 nationally certified ones in the whole country.
As impressive as the gardens themselves are the ways that the staff manages to engage the community and to invite people in for all kinds of activities for all ages.
It’s also yet another success story for a foundation that has taken responsibility for a public asset and elevated it to a higher level. City of Memphis has provided only about $500,000 for years, but Memphis Botanic Garden Foundation Inc. puts together and operates a roughly $5 million budget each year in support of its programs and in support of the best maintenance found on any publicly-owned asset in Memphis.
If Memphis attractions – from Beale Street Landing to the museum system – want to understand the value of programming, how to do it, and how to move beyond conventional thinking, they could do much worse than talking with the staff and board of Memphis Botanic Garden.
Today, the word, world-class, is overused and cheapened, but Memphis Botanic Garden has evolved from a fine city facility into something that is indeed world class.