Hortis: How We’re Rethinking Plant Records

Waheed Arshad, PhD
August 9, 2021

In June, we launched Hortis, our next generation plant collection platform. This was announced at our sponsored workshop during the virtual annual American Public Gardens Association conference. We were pleased that the event, titled “Rethinking Plant Records”, was fully booked with 60 delegates.

In this article, we summarise our key findings and share links to the conference event and our follow-up workshop, held on 29th of June.

The state of your plant records today

The first part of the workshop was focused on looking at what the community is struggling with regarding plant collection management and record keeping. Our polls and 12 breakout rooms revealed how attendees are feeling about the state of their plant records today, and what the main barriers are to making them more up to date and accurate.

Results from our interactive poll, on whether delegates feel they are up-to-date and accurate with their plant records.
Our interactive polls showed the majority of attendees felt they were not up to date with their plant records and that their data accuracy was quite varied.
Results from our interactive poll, on what delegates feel are the main reasons for being unhappy with the current state of their plant records.
Word cloud: We asked our attendees why they are currently unhappy with the state of their plant records. Time, funding, and staffing were the most prevalent reasons.
Results from our interactive poll, on what delegates use their plant records for.
We also asked our attendees how they use their plant records. The majority (67%) use plant records to document what they have in their collection.

The overwhelming majority of attendees is looking for features and capabilities that align with modern day record-keeping and collection management software, e.g.:

  • Ease of use
  • Establishing basic records with accurate data
  • Increasing the digital power of those records with other integrated systems

Most people would like the scope of their plant records to go beyond just a basic inventory and instead, to use them as a tool to share information with the public, as well as forming the basis of a collections strategy for the garden as a whole.

What do you like about your plant records workflow?

We also discussed likes and dislikes regarding plant records workflows. For several gardens, having a mobile workflow has helped speed up the inventory process. For others, having an extensive searching/exporting capability worked well, especially when creating reports.

If you would like to revisit our interactive whiteboard to see some of these comments in more detail, it is available to view here.

During the last part of the workshop, we presented how we believe many of the issues people are struggling with will be made easier through Hortis, our next generation plant collection platform.

The known problems Hortis software will solve in the plant records community.
Solving known problems: Some of the solutions for gardens and their plant records workflows that are on the Hortis road map.

Rethinking Plant Records: Part 2

Our follow-up workshop, held on the 29th of June, was intended for delegates who were unable to attend our conference event or had questions digging deeper into some of the solutions Hortis will offer. We presented several of our unique features to the group: draft records and collection value scoring.

Balancing strict data requirements with a friendly and efficient user experience is something that plant records systems have not been able to achieve. Users may not be able to complete their work due to data requirements, and existing systems have sacrificed data quality in attempts to improve usability.

By introducing support for allowing “draft” data to be submitted for later processing, Hortis will democratise the data capture process, while still being able to enforce stricter control during an approval stage. In this poll, we explored how people might use this system at their institution.

Results from our interactive poll, on what delegates thought about the Hortis draft approval system.
Democratising data capture with Hortis draft records and approval: By introducing this popular concept, we can dramatically change how data can be captured and submitted.

Another difficult challenge in collection management is allocating the right amount of resources and attention to important plant material. A system which gives each plant a score that represents the institutional importance of that plant material, will assist staff on how they approach their work. The way plants are “ranked” will be derived from the mission of the institution and based on its focus.

We asked delegates which metrics they would use in their institution to measure the value of their plant collection. It is clear how institutional approaches will also help to better monitor the plant collection over time, and help prioritise the way the collection can be managed.

Results from our interactive poll, on the main metrics delegates would use to measure the value of their living plant collection.
How would you measure the value of your plant collection? Some of the metrics that garden staff would use to address this question. These may differ depending on the mission and focus of the institution.

Both our workshops gave us valuable insight into the challenges that exist with plant records and collection management, as well as confirming that our vision for Hortis will solve many of the aspects people are struggling with today.

If you missed either of our launch workshops, recordings are now available:

More conference content you might be interested in

Later in the American Public Gardens Association conference, we also presented how our visions fit into “Communication Pathways: From the Landscape to the Database”. Together with three other institutions, this session focussed on the plant records challenges being faced by staff and volunteers during COVID.

This recording is available here for members, or if you are not a member, the whole conference can be published on demand from the conference website.

We would like to thank the American Public Gardens Association for organising yet another wonderful conference this year, and to all delegates and moderators for joining us on the journey to plant records nirvana.

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