Open Letter on Selby Gardens Master Plan Rejection



To The Sarasota City Commissioners:

I work at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.  I am not a CEO, a CFO or a member of The Associates, nor a trustee or one of the thousands of families who support the work of Selby Gardens through financial contributions or endowments. I am a mere volunteer, one of over 600 at Selby, who works side-by-side with Selby's most learned botanists in an ongoing effort to preserve the past histories and present discoveries in the world of orchids, bromeliads and other epiphyte plant life.

Our work is done in a very tiny, very old wooden building that was once a cute little bungalow, probably big enough for a family of four to live in comfortably. Today it houses anywhere from 15 to 25 staff members and volunteers on any given day, who spend their time collecting, collaborating, identifying, sorting, mounting, scanning, photographing, PhotoShopping and writing volumes of publications and papers on the thousands of varieties of the aforementioned plants. This tiny building also houses thousands of books and periodicals, hundreds of file cabinets and their contents, computers, high-power microscopes, printers, etc. The house itself is wearing out and is not very efficient at keeping out the heat, rain or cold weather.  This building, and others like it along Palm Avenue, is full of holes in its roof, walls and floors that allow for any number of rodents and crawling insects and worms to enter the building at will. Some of these can be found dropping off the ceilings onto our desks, keyboards and even our heads. This makes for a very undesirable work atmosphere for anyone to have to deal with on a daily basis, especially the work of the earth's scientists.

Because we love our work, we continue to do so under these adverse circumstances because we all know that what we do today can only improve on the ecology surrounding us and that we will leave a wealth of historical information for the future botanists of the world. That being said, I am totally mystified as to how the Sarasota City Commission chose to vote down our improvement project at their Nov. 5 meeting.  Selby Gardens is a world-renowned botanical garden, known for its historical collection of documents, books, periodicals, paintings and photographs as well as the ongoing research performed every year by our staff of scientists to learn more and to document their findings to share with the world of botany and horticulture.

Travelers and scientists worldwide seek out our gardens as a stop they want included on their travel itinerary when traveling the USA and Sarasota.  As a world traveler myself, botanical gardens are a must for every country we visit.  I have been quite impressed by all the botanical gardens we have seen throughout Europe and other parts of the world. I would have to say that most of them have upgraded their facilities to continue their means of attracting more volumes of visitors to their gardens. Selby Gardens is in dire need of a serious upgrade in order to continue competing with the other botanical gardens of the world and to be able to bring more visitors to this wonderful city of Sarasota. More than anything, we need to have a parking garage in order to allow our visitors and staff a parking area that is not full of ruts, potholes, crushed shells, drifting sands and dirt as well as flooded areas during the rainy season.

I would like to invite each and every member of this City Council to come and see for themselves the conditions under which we struggle to preserve Marie Selby's gardens and legacy. I am not speaking of the gardens themselves but a tour of all the little tiny old buildings that are being stretched beyond their capabilities to house all of the documents, photos, dry-mounted and spirit specimens, etc. I, myself, am truly amazed at the wonderful work Selby Gardens has done in the past while working in such outdated buildings that were never intended for this type of use. I hope you will all have a change of heart and mindset once you have each had a first-hand look at what we deal with on a daily basis.

This upgrade to Selby Gardens doesn't just affect us, the workers and staff, but also would affect Sarasota in a positive way, making it a most desirable place in Florida for the world to see and admire.  Think about it again and do some good for Sarasota.

Nancy E. Karam is a research assistant in Botany at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.

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