Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève
Maintenance of the Living Collection
Formation of a gardener-botanist
The maintenance of the collections of living plants requires specific training that is complementary to the basic training of a horticulturist. One needs 2 to 3 years for a good horticulturist to become fully at ease with the maintenance of the collections.
Effectively, working on living collections requires motivation and a particular knowledge of plants. Each plant is different from its neighbour. Our plants generally come from natural habitats, and there rarely exist "fiches de culture" for wild plants.
The gardener-botanist has to know about the natural habitats of plants. This is usually somewhat straightforward for indigenous species (the excursions for the collection of seeds for the Index Seminum are of great value in refining ones knowledge on different habitats), but can be less evident for tropical species where one must seek out information in published articles and books, often written in English. In some cases, one may need to contact the curator who brought back plants from an expedition.
Collection of seeds for the Index Seminum or for the maintenance of the collections, particularly when it concerns collections of phanerophytic plants (annuals or bi-annuals), is an integral part of the work of a gardener-botanist.
The living collections
The flowering stage is indispensable for the identification of a plant. Determinations can be made using a flora, or with the help of a curator who is a general botanist or a specialist in a type of flora, a family or a group of plants (cactuses, ferns, palm trees, etc.). The value of a collection depends on the number of identified plants in it.
A botanical collection is characterized by the proximity of numerous species in small numbers (a few examples, either in pots, under glass or planted outside in the soil or flower beds). A species is thus represented by just a few plants. Each plant has to be taken into consideration, not just as a group (as is the case in traditional horticulture), but plant by plant. Culturing procedures are closer to the horticulture practised in the beginning of the 20th century, prior to the start of mechanisation.
A tight collaboration within the Institute
One of the particular roles of the gardener-botanist consists of collaborating closely with the curators, and thus providing them with precise information on the species on which they are working. They must take notes, be capable of synthesising information and be able to communicate this to others. The mastering of computer systems is becoming indispensable, on the one hand to distribute information, and on the other to assure the management of databases. As seeds and plants are received, they are registered and labelled. All of the culturing procedures are subsequently noted. Each plant is indexed and all information on it is recorded.
Reconstitution of biotypes
In collections under glass (greenhouse collections), a perfect knowledge of climate management is critical. Watering, humidity, aeration, shade must all be mastered. Their original climates, often tropical, have to be understood in order to water the plants correctly. Watering remains a long and difficult apprenticeship for the maintenance and development of plants in greenhouses.