Aldona at Large: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Today we must detour from Ireland to a much darker, colder, uglier place. That place is called Financial Dilemma.

“What the heck is happening at the TBG?” Yet again, this registered educational charity is facing a tough road—the last time was in 2009. But instead of retreating and severely cutting back programs and staff, this time we have chosen to boldly step into the limelight to say “we are Toronto’s sole botanical garden—your garden that you can visit anytime for free—and we are worth supporting.”

It is no good developing and growing strong programs and a strong team, only to be forced to dismantle them every few years. That would be a slow, painful death by a thousand cuts. We have worked too darned hard and come too far to allow this to happen again (to see the more than 100 initiatives we’ve brought to fruition since 2010, click here).

You can find all the gory details about our financial dilemma in this press release. Simply put, and without getting too whiny, as we lack an endowment, we need to find a decent level of annual, recurring, core base funding that we can depend upon and build on.

Where do things stand now? On October 15, accompanied by more than 40 supporters, I made a presentation to Toronto City Council’s Parks and Environment Committee at City Hall. I had five minutes to state our case for increased support, which then led to two-and-a-half hours of questions, clarifications, and recommendations by the councillors on the committee, and others. At the end, we got the green light to go before the city’s Budget Committee in a few months, and we are preparing a strong business case right now.

What causes confusion in some Torontonian’s minds is that we are located in Edwards Gardens at Lawrence Avenue and Leslie Street. A garden that’s within a garden? Well, yes. So what’s the difference between a pleasure garden, such as Edwards Gardens, and a botanical garden, such as Toronto Botanical Garden? Three words: conservation, education, and research. When you visit a pleasure garden, you walk around, admire, then leave. In contrast, we animate our gardens—and by connection, Edwards Gardens–in a great many ways, by providing information and hundreds of educational and social programs for adults and children year-round. People also visit our library, our Children’s Centre, our seasonal organic Farmers’ Market, and our shop. We are in effect a horticultural, educational, and social community centre.

And we teach by doing—our gardens and buildings are green, and we show you how to organically care for your garden. Our plantings are designed not just to inspire you but to provide food for bees, birds, butterflies and nature’s creatures. We keep bees. We teach people how to be good stewards of the land– to be urban farmers and beekeepers. Some 46 per cent of the classes we run for children are offered free to kids from priority neighbourhoods.

Our 17 spectacular, intensively planted, city-sized gardens are living examples of what can be achieved in a small space—with plenty of ideas that anyone can adapt at home. And if you visit our gardens at the weekend, you will see our visitors come from all backgrounds and walks of life.

There is another difference between a pleasure garden and a botanical garden. We are important travel influencers.

The 2011 Ontario Garden Tourism Strategy report, paid for by the provincial government for the Ontario Garden Tourism Coalition, cited a 2007 Travel Accounts Motivation Study, which revealed that during a two year period, more than 26 ½ million north Americans visited botanical gardens while away on an overnight stay or longer. Botanical gardens draw tourists, and tourists bring money to this city. We have the same potential as our other great cultural institutions to bring tourists—and tourism revenues—to Toronto.

And something else we add to is less tangible—the quality of life. Years ago, when I lived in New York, someone said to me, “if it wasn’t for the gardens in Central Park, people here would be killing each other in the streets.”

In fact, according to an October 23 editorial in the Toronto Star, the latest version of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, compiled by researchers at the University of Waterloo and just made public, shows a steep drop in quality-of-life measures in this country. This year’s index looks at changes from 2008 to 2010, and shows that the wellbeing index fell by a whopping 24 per cent. According to the Star, “…The index of wellbeing simply sheds a wider light on how we’re doing, and reminds us that not everything can be measured in dollars and cents…” For more on this, go here.

Amen. These are difficult times, and a botanical garden that you can visit for free right in your own city is a calming and civilizing influence. We are a place of beauty and solace and learning that people can escape to when they are feeling overwhelmed or in despair. We provide balm for every soul who comes here. That matters.

What can you do to help the Toronto Botanical Garden not only survive, but thrive? Here are some ways:

1. We have launched Hearts and Flowers, a public fundraising campaign, and we have an offer of a $50,000 donation if we can find matching gifts! This means your $10 donation is actually worth $20 to us—and, as we are a registered educational charity, all gifts over $10 will receive a charitable tax receipt, making it a win-win for everyone. To donate, click here.

2. If you are a person of ample means who cares about what we do and wants to help us achieve more stability, please consider a multi-year pledge to help support a position or a program over the longer term—or pool together with others to do this. As we lack an endowment, this will help us find the stability we need. To learn more, click here.

3. A simple way to help is to become a member, or step up your membership level to the Friend level, or give memberships to Toronto Botanical Garden as gifts for holidays, birthdays, housewarmings, and anniversaries. To join, click here.

4. If you have holiday or hostess shopping to do, come to our wonderful shop to find a great selection of gifts in all price ranges, including kids’ gifts and beautiful gifts that grow—amaryllis and paperwhites planted up for you in gorgeous, frost-proof, terra cotta pots. Or, buy a gift certificate and leave it up to the recipient to choose what they want.

5. Finally, whether or not you have any cash to spare, there are three important things you can do that don’t cost a thing

a. Write to your Councillor and let them know that Toronto Botanical Garden matters, to the city, and to you. For a contact list, click here.

b. And write to the Budget Committee to tell them we deserve their support. You can do so here.

c. Post a testimonial about what the TBG means to you here.

Miracles happen every day. I believe in the TBG and the work we do with all my heart, and with your help, we can continue this work and grow stronger. If you need more convincing, talented writer/photographer Janet Davis, a long-time TBG supporter, has compiled the glorious photographs she’s taken of our gardens in all seasons. To see them, click here. Thanks for reading this, and thanks for your support.

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