Strolling through an aquarium or a zoo as kid, I always wondered how the animals were fed, cared for, and if they ever went somewhere other than their enclosure. Little did I know then that I was hitting on some of the complications of having a living collection! Not that aquariums and zoos are the only living collections – botanical gardens, living museums, and arboretums are a few that come to mind as well. Regardless of the type of life contained within the collection, there are a few constants that always make it a lot more complicated to run than a traditional, artifact-filled museum!

The first complication is housing. While a traditional museum can be positioned in nearly any kind of hard-sided structure, living collections may need outdoor space, and a lot of it, to operate. Zoos, for example, need acres and acres of outdoor space to simply have enough space to care for the animals correctly, even a small zoo. Then there are the challenges of feeding the animals, ensuring that they have the proper veterinary care, and making sure that prey animals stay separate from predators (no one wants to see the lion eat the gazelle in real life)! Zoos also have to worry about the enclosures being both animal and human-proof so that nothing gets in or out of the enclosures on accident. Aquariums have a different set of considerations, in addition to all of the concerns that zoos have. They have to ensure that the marine tanks are structurally sound, that the water is the right PH level, and that diseases and invasive species aren’t taking over the animals and/or tanks.

Living museums, while they don’t have the complications that come with housing and caring for a large amount of different species, do have to worry about the human factor. There are usually dangerous items that go hand in hand with a living museum – our ancestors were hardy people, and they didn’t always choose the safest equipment to use! Maybe safety equipment and personal protective equipment hadn’t exactly been invented yet, but still. It’s a challenge to ensure visitors’ safety when you’re offering to teach them to fire an antique musket! There’s the safety of the public, the rules and regulations of preparing food, and hiring the actors to play the characters to worry about. The characters hired also need to be somewhat skilled to realistically recreate the history theme of the museum, making them slightly different from regular volunteers!

One living collection that I particularly like is the Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, England. Not only is it a beautiful and fascinating botanical garden in and of itself, it also contains the Poison Garden, founded in 1995 by the Duchess of Northumberland. Wanting to make her gardens a tourist attraction, she thought about what might make them stand apart. While on a visit to the Medici poison garden in Italy, she saw an opportunity to appeal to children – after all, most kids really are pretty morbidly curious! In Her Grace’s words, “Children don’t care that aspirin comes from a bark of a tree. What’s really interesting is to know how a plant kills you, and how the patient dies, and what you feel like before you die.” There are currently 100 deadly plants in the garden, visitors MUST take a guided tour to enter, and they are not allowed to touch, smell, or taste anything within the Poison Garden. Even with all that precaution, there is still the occasional visitor who is overwhelmed by the smells in the garden and will faint.

Question: If you could pick a living collection to have as your own, what type would it be and why?

One Thought to “Living Collection Complications”

  1. Kai Doak

    Wow, The Poison Garden sounds like a very interesting and kind of scary place to visit! I would be afraid of tripping or falling into something. I would love to have my own Bonsai Garden, they are typically easy to maintain (which is important because I have killed every plant I have owned), very beautiful, and last a long time in the right conditions.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.