Electrical issues, sinkholes, deteriorating greenhouses, and a small gardening staff are just a few of the problems that the Fort Worth Botanic Garden is facing.
The garden’s 2016 strategic planning report estimates there are up to $15 million in unmet repairs and renovations throughout the 110 acre garden.
“This is not a matter of malfeasance or mismanagement,” said Garden Director Bob Byers. “It’s just that the issues in the garden have grown faster than our ability to pay for it.”
Taddie Hamilton donated over 500 hours of her time in the begonia green house last year. She said she sees the problems that the garden faces each time she volunteers.
“You can look around the greenhouses and see how old they are. We had a lot of damage in the spring with the hail,” she said. “There are only ten real gardeners that get their hands in the dirt and that’s not enough.”
At almost 80 years old, the garden is the oldest of its kind in Texas.
It is also the only public garden in the country that does not charge an admission or parking fee. The garden only charges a fee for admission to its Japanese garden and conservatory.
“I love the fact that our garden is free. I would love to keep that,” said Byers. “When I look at the numbers, I just don’t see that we can do it in the long term.”
According to the strategic planning report, a general admission fee could generate up to $2.2 million in revenue for the garden.
Hamilton said after looking at the financial needs of the garden she has come to accept the idea of a general admission fee.
“For years I have been against that and I said I will fight to the death not to have to charge,” she said. “I do realize that I’ve had to change my mind. It saddens me, but we have to look at reality. Data doesn’t lie.”
An increase in revenue would not only alleviate the garden’s unmet repairs and renovations, but would also allow the garden to expand its service to the public said Byers.
“I see what other gardens are doing, and our programs are not keeping up. We don’t have exhibits, we don’t have education programs that are comparable,” he said.
The addition of an admission fee must be approved by the Fort Worth city council.
Byers said that even if the council votes to approve the new charge, it would not be immediately implemented.
“We’re not rushing into this,” he said. “We want to make sure that we do it right and we have the minimal impact on the people of Fort Worth and our visitors.”
Hamilton said maintaining the garden is important so that people can enjoy it for years to come.
“This garden is for everybody. We don’t want it to become something that’s not maintained and beautiful. ” she said. “That’s why I think it’s important for me to work to maintain the begonia collection. We don’t want to lose them.”
If the city council votes to approve the admission fee, it would not be implemented until the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year.