If we wonder about the future of gardens and gardening, Ben Futa, 24, has some answers. He is a self-described public-horticulture nerd, and his special interests lie in the growing potential of urban environments. “The role and need for gardens in cities could not be more significant: public, private, or otherwise,” he said. “Exposure is the first step.”
Ben is from South Bend, Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University in 2012 with an associate’s degree in interdisciplinary agriculture, a course of study composed of three semesters of landscape architecture and four semesters of public horticulture. Now he is studying at Indiana University South Bend, working on degree number two in general studies with a minor in sustainability—all while working full time at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve in Niles, Michigan.
Exposing the public to plants, gardens, and horticulture is the value of Fernwood—a 105-acre public garden with 10 acres of landscaped gardens, a woodland nature preserve, and an arboretum of specimen trees and shrubs, as well as a restored tall-grass prairie; there’s a conservatory featuring more than 100 kinds of tropical ferns, too.
“I feel the future of horticulture is in the ‘culture’ half of the word,” Ben says. “Gardening is a culture, but it has become very sterile and commercialized in most of America, especially here in the Midwest.” Granted, there are a few pockets of progress and promise, like Fernwood, but he sees nearly unlimited potential for more. One of Ben’s big wishes is that more cities would realize how bringing culture in the form of designed landscapes and plants can improve the quality of life for those who experience it. Perhaps more municipal planners would appreciate this if they realized that plants and gardens can bring in more money than they cost. Of this, Ben cites the High Line in New York City as an example: This popular public park was built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Not only is the High Line successful; it has also brought an economic revival to the neighborhoods through which it runs, in the form of restaurants, small shops, and service businesses that appeal to visitors who come from all over the world to enjoy the garden’s culture.
Photo: Brendan Lekan