Only Along the Gulfshore


Editorial: Donna McGinnis Takes Over at the Naples Botanical Garden

BY April 4, 2017

Let’s talk about major transplants and Naples Botanical Garden. Last year, 25 legacy trees (rescues) and 40 rare palms were moved to the garden or relocated within the property. A big year, indeed. And 2017 made headlines right away with another key transplant.

The very credentialed Donna McGinnis left her post as senior vice president of the large Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis to put roots down as president and CEO of our thriving property here. In replacing retired icon Brian Holley, Donna sports garden and museum leadership and education credits extending around the world. But why would she leave a $40 million budget and 1 million visitors a year for our $5 million budget and 225,000 visitors annually? What does she think she can accomplish here?

 

All about growth

“Everyone in national garden circles,” says Donna, “knows about Naples Botanical Garden. It’s all about growth. Attendance and membership are growing. The education for kids and adults here is ahead of most garden operations in the United States. And we’re unique down here. The big gardens in the North have to grow things in greenhouses; we can grow plants bigger and better outdoors for global research and other purposes. I’m lucky to have a chance to step into this very alluring situation.”

Donna’s already in love with the Bob and Karen Scott Florida Garden that officially opened on the property in January. “You’ve got the beautiful sunsets over the lake,” she says, “and it sits high enough to catch breezes all day long. What a wonderful place, too, for romantic events.”

With a gleam in her eye, Donna envisions more special exhibits—sculptures, origami, bringing back the dinosaurs. “And,” Donna says, “we’re talking to places like Artis—Naples and Opera Naples to bring the performing arts to the garden, a nice blend of cultures.” She intends for the garden to play a yet more major role in conservation with its landscape and plants serving as good research models. Says Donna, “We can educate, we can be a first step to building your own garden, and we can be a first step encouraging visitors to explore the Everglades.”

 

Plans for expansion

The challenges, of course, are out there. The garden has 9,657 member households and those 225,000 annual visitors. With these numbers growing, the practical matters of providing more parking, pathways, bridges, restrooms and ticket booths loom large going forward. There are plans for two or three more display gardens. Donna is committed, too, to exploring more ways to be a community partner to school groups, people of special needs, diverse cultural organizations.

She brings much to the mission in her new job. A B.A. from Washington State University and an MBA from Webster University in St. Louis. A leadership role in the American Alliance of Museums. Participation in the U.S.-Russia Botanical Exchange program. Faculty work at Washington University. Adviser on fundraising and revenue development at gardens here and abroad.

 

Multitasker ploys

And this is not to mention her skills as a wife and mother of three daughters. “People ask me all the time about how I manage all the home stuff with the career,” Donna says. First, there’s the cookie ploy. “One afternoon,” Donna says, “faced with making a conference call with loud whining children in the background, I ripped open an entire package of Oreo cookies, plunked them down on the coffee table and left the room. Their unbelievable good fortune kept them quiet just long enough.” And there’s her Subway (as in sandwich shop) move, which got food quickly to her daughters on teaching nights, with no messy condiments allowed. I might add that in the hour or so it took me to do this interview with Donna, she consumed a nifty grilled chicken salad and ice tea without dropping a line of dialogue or a bit of lettuce. Resourceful. Fast. Efficient. It bodes well for our garden on the move to brave new worlds.