The Grady Journal: Scan, plant, grow: Technology in the garden

By Lilly Workneh on October 21, 2011 on The Grady Journal

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia has implemented QR codes on 10-15 signs referring passerbys to more information. Photo/Lilly Workneh

The next time you decide to take a stroll through the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, don’t forget your smart phones – not only to snap away pictures but also to scan!
Technology is making an appearance is some of the least expected places and with the latest functionality of
QR codes – short for Quick Response – information can be retrieved quicker than ever before, almost anywhere.
 Close to 30 QR codes are now implemented throughout the garden. These codes are small box-shaped barcodes read by smartphone cameras through several third-party applications. The codes are placed by plants and allow cameras to scan, code and redirect users to a website, unique to each QR code, published with relevant information about the subject.
James Gilstrap is the IT specialist at the garden. Photo/Lilly Workneh

“We needed to do something at the garden that’s more outgoing and technology-friendly for our visitors,” says James Gilstrap, the IT specialist at the garden. “The use of smart phones led me to place QR codes on plants where people can learn to grow them or take something useful home.”

This new initiative is one of the ways employees of the garden are attempting to interact with their visitors. Their goal is to allow easier access to more information that can be easily retrieved both by the garden enthusiasts and the inquiring minds that visit the facility.

“People are using smart phones so we started thinking about how we were going to use them here,” Gilstrap says.

Although many codes have been placed around the garden so far, expansion is in the midst. Several other places such as signs, programs and various infrastructures around the garden will eventually have QR codes that direct visitors to websites with more information.

The flower garden alone, which covers 3-5 acres of land, has around 10-15 QR codes implemented throughout the several flowerbeds. The remainder of the codes can be found in the tropical conservatory where many of the tropical plants used in everyday life are harvested, grown and maintained.

Each QR code directs users to a specific web page on the Botanical Garden website. However, the information published varies from plant to plant.

“The differences are that in the flower garden, the codes take you to information on how to grow them,” Gilstrap says. “In the tropical conservatory, not only do I show you how to grow them, or where it came from, but I can give you special interesting tips.”

These interesting tips stem from Gilstrap’s collaboration with several of the garden’s curators. Many aid him by highlighting the important and interesting facts of each plant. From here, Gilstrap then writes and publishes information on the websites that teach curious visitors on background information on the plant along with which fruits to pick while shopping at local markets.

“For example, the Papaya tree – on our sign, I tell you that it’s not just a papaya tree,” says Gilstrap. “Scan the code and it will tell you how to pick the right papaya at the grocery store.”

Vanilla, mango, star fruit, orchids, coffee and chocolate are just some of the tropical plants grown inside of the conservatory.

Although this is a relatively new initiative the Botanical Garden is implementing, they hope to go through each garden and have all the necessary signs and codes placed by the end of December.

The QR Codes are the small square boxes placed below the image of the plant. Photo/Lilly Workneh

“It’s a great use of technology, people who are interested in plants always want to know more,” says Linda Chafin, Research Project Coordinator and a botanist at the garden.

Many anticipate the numbers to increase and the popularity of the QR codes to garner greater interest from visitors of younger demographics.

However, some are skeptical about the success this may bring and if older audiences will be attracted to the new technology.

“At times, we can have an aging population, and we don’t always have a generation that’s as comfortable with technology, so that does concern me,” says Jason Burdette. “I hope that we do have a good response to it.”

Surprisingly, visitor responses so far have indicated that many members of the older generation that own smart phones have become fans of the codes and increasingly use them to scan the QR codes placed directly by the plants.

“It wasn’t the younger ages that were using the phones, it was the older generation,” Gilstrap says. “Because at the garden, our visitorship is of an older generation and they are the ones that WANT to know how to grow the plants.”

Since it’s announcement to the Friends Group last Friday, the garden’s membership non-profit support group, the codes had been scanned close to 60 times over the course of a weekend.

“I love the efficiency, I love the fact that it’s very modern, and for those that have no idea what they are, it’s non intrusive,” says Wilf Nicholls, the Director of the State Botanical Garden. “I’m more than happy to see this new initiative and I’ll be very interested to see how well it’s used.”

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