Virtual Nation or World-wide Botanic Garden

yardvaarkJanuary 6, 2012

If this is not the appropriate forum to post this idea, please suggest a better one.

Sometimes, I use Google Street View to "drive down the street" to see what's growing. But it's always disappointing in that, though you can see many great plants, they're always too blurry and you can't see better/other views of them. I'm convinced that there must be a way to create a nationwide or worldwide virtual botanic gardens that is tied in with Google Maps... where people could add quality photo views of plants that already exist in their yards and also add information (Wikipedia-like) that identifies and gives details about the plants that are on view. I can envision such a virtual botanical garden being filled with features devised in such a way that it becomes self-sustaining and self-improving. I think it could be a useful resource for anyone in the horticulture or landscape design industry and their clients... or hobbyists alike.

It could work something like this: while using Google Street View, you can see "floating" marker tags that are on or above individual plants. The floating marker tags could be labeled with the plant's botanical name. Click on a tag and it takes you to another screen that shows thumbnail views of that plant. Click on a thumbnail to see a nice, big, clear photo of that plant. Click on a different thumbnail to see a different view. Click on an "info." link to read information that the owner (or contributor) has added about that specific plant. A person could enter the planting date, if known, to give others an idea of a plants age. I envision that others could add information about the plant, as well. Viewers should be able to indicate to a contributor if a better (or additional) photo is necessary or if more information is needed. People should be able to add plants that are growing in any public area. There could be a way to add plants that are growing in non-public areas, too. Even if a plant doesn't show up in Google Street View, it could show up on the map. If a space has been designed, a designer's name and/or a firm name could be added to give credit to that person or firm.

The most obvious way this would be useful is in helping someone learn to identify plant materials. (Seeing plants in pots at a nursery hardly ever gives one an accurate idea of what the plant is capable of becoming.) This virtual garden should be capable of being searched for specific plants within a specific geographical area. For example, if you see a certain tree that interests you. You immediately see it's botanical name. Then, you can search the town, county, state or zip code to see locations of all of that species that have been entered into the virtual garden. You can visit any of them on the map and see their detailed pictures, etc. If desired, one could personally visit nearby sites to see the real life example. I envision that statistical data about a plant would be searchable in order to help viewers "home in" on specific plant examples.

Do others see something like this being useful? Anyone have ideas about how to move an idea like this forward? Would cooperation be required of Google from the start? Is there a better way to do this?

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My first thought is that the technology isn't there yet; my experience of google earth is that it is very blurry. Certainly its a useful tool. but not quite on the plant level yet.

My other thought is that I am not sure I would want every shrub, tree and plant to be available on a vital landscape plan. For instance, about 10 years ago, when we lived in a different house, A house was built across the street from us. They hired a horticulturist from the local garden center and said "we want our landscaping to look like that -" pointing at my house. So thats what they did - copy my landscape across the street, tree for tree, shrub for shrub. I was not happy, but what could I do?

Why would anyone ever hire a landscape designer if they could drive around their neighborhood, find a landscape design they like, look it up on google earth and have the lawn guy install it if they were unable to do it themselves. Nice, they know whose design it was, but they didn't pay for the design, or pay the designer for the install.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 10:39AM
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drtygrl, I'm not suggesting that one be able to "go deeper" into the presently existing streetview picture and see plants better, but that better quality photos of plants are ADDED to a separate link that is keyed into the Google map and street view image... much like how Panoramio photos are keyed to a Google map. (But I would not want it all mixed up with the Panoramio photos.) In the map and street view you would see markers. When you click on a marker it would show you not street view, but high quality photos that have been submitted by an interested party (usually homeowner or some botanical fanatic.)

Regarding the "copying" aspect, I say--and as you point out in one example--what is to stop people from copying landscape ideas now? Nothing. All the people who don't want to pay for design now are copying to some degree or another. Designers copy elements of design from other designers if they see something that impressed them. But because each property has individual characteristics, it's difficult or impossible to copy 100% exactly. I don't think I could copy a previous design of my own because there are so many differences from one property to the next... and I would become bored without taking advantage of the opportunity to improve, wherever possible. Besides that, I think it's flattering when people try to copy your work. It means they like it. Actually, I think that it would be easier to be hired if someone who sees your work can find out who did it. But the primary purpose of my idea is not as a way to showcase design work, but as a way to see and learn about plants, the vast majority of which exist in a landscape that no one in their right mind would want to copy.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:04PM
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I am not really a tech person; so I am not sure i really get what you are talking about. What I understand is that it will be kind of like google earth is now where there are little pictures in certain areas that you can click on to see what that area actually looks like. (panoramio) So you or someone else would have to put the photos on there.

If I understand correctly its actually a very interesting marketing idea if you keep the photos of the entire landscape. Once you start labeling the plants or providing close ups, you enter into the "copying" area. I do not mind another designer using aspects of my work, thats flattering. I actually didn't mind that the horticulturist helped my neighbor copy my design because she was making a living doing designs for her garden center (and she is now actually a huge referral source as she switched jobs) I had a problem with the same landscaping being across the street. In some situations, of course you have to adapt to the site, but although we had a colonial and they had a cape - the site was very similar.

What I mean to say is that if you had the close ups of the plants with botanical labels, you are basically putting a photographic version of your design on the web. That is your intellectual property, and you are just giving it away. I don't think that necessarily promotes you as a designer or your business. Whereas there are many people who would respect that work enough to call you to do work for them, there are so many cheapskates out there that would be happy to steal your work and install on the cheap.

I do think it is a really interesting idea though - especially for public gardens.

One more thing - do you find google earth photos to be accurate in your area? Perhaps because I live in such a rural area, but near a state park, the photos and locations are really bad. Apparently, when you go by google earth, my house is two houses away from the transfer station (dump) which it is not :) Some one did spot a moose in my neighbors field according to google earth pics- but the moose is pictured in the woods, not next that horses at pasture in that area!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 12:49PM
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Actually, d..l, you mentioned Google Earth, but I'm not suggesting necessarily anything to do with it. I'm thinking more of a connection to Google maps and the "street view" image. Let's say, hypothetically, that you're exploring a virtual "street image" view of a part of the country unfamiliar to you... Florida, for example. So, as you "travel" down Google's virtual street, you say "What the blankety-blank is that gorgeous awesome looking Palm??" (Palms not being native to Yankeeland.) Low and behold, there is a label (that the owner of the yard installed) floating next to the palm that indicates it's a Bismark palm. (Just like a label in front of a real tree at a real botanical garden.) Happily, you say, "Fantastic. Now I know that lovely thing is a Bismark Palm." Then you click on the label and are taken to a page (also "filled out" by the owner with a lot of information (including as much as the owner, or other contributor, wanted to add about their Bismark Palm... and thumbnail photos of the plant. The Google street view image would be basically, junk, having been taken on a dark, overcast day. But the owner, interested in showing off their Bismark Palm, would submit some really nice photos of plant parts, and the whole, and it's setting... maybe showing the plant at various times of the year. There might be only 3 photos, or many many as the owner wished to submit. And maybe there'd be a way to have comments and discussion about the plant.

I am not a lawyer, but I don't think there is anything photographically sacred about the "design" of anyone's front yard. It's public space and anyone can take a picture of it (as Google paparazzi has done with just about the whole world, by now.) It would not be seeing anything that the public couldn't already see... or in the case of plants in other areas, that the owner did not wish to show. I'm not suggesting that people be forced to show their "private areas!"

I'm not really thinking of this as a "marketing idea" but more as a way to show off and discuss the awesome plants that are just sitting around everyone's front yard all over world. I have lived in several different geographical areas, and this would have made it so easy to learn new plants and understand their personalities and capabilities. When you see an incredible plant in your town that you're not familiar with you might be able to pull up the address on G Maps and see that it is labeled and there are more great pictures and information about it. I think it would be a convenient way to learn about plants.

If one searches Google for "Homes for sale" and then clicks on "maps", one will see a Google map with markers for each home that is for sale. If you mouse over or click on the marker you will be given additional information about the home and if you click on "streetview" you will be taken to the property as if you're driving down the street in front of it. Clicking further would enable you to access greater detail about the property. This, essentially, is how I think an enormous botanical garden could be "contructed"... by using plants (instead of "homes for sale") that already exist. It would be constructed by millions of persons interested in plants.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 2:07PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

If you are serious, why not approach the people at Google directly? They have added tons of features, maybe they can activate the concept.

Honestly, to me, it seems a bit impractical unless you are labeling plants that are "landmark" specimens. Much of what can be seen on public streets is mediocre and not worth the trouble to label on a map. Collectors of rare and endangered species may not want their obscure and valuable plants listed on the internet, for security reasons. I don't care to advertise where my Voanioala gerardii is located.

While I completely agree that looking at plants in 1-gallon nursery pots is not very instructive, taking notes and doing a little research, or talking to knowlegeable people is very easy.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 2:42PM
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Agreed, catkim, no point in labelling every beat up, scrawny Japanese holly. Exceptional plants, specimens, remarkable examples and stunners... that's what I'd want to see. On a voluntary basis.

I'm not so sure that "finding knowledgeable people"--about WHAT you want, WHEN you want-- is all that easy. Taking notes and doing research eventually produces results, but we always want faster and better and more convenient. (You can get in the car and look for houses for sale, but it's a huge convenience to look online before making the drive.)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2012 at 4:07PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I think the issues of invasion of privacy and inciting the potential for theft are real problems with this sort of scheme. I know I wouldn't be willing to add to such a data base that would make it so easy for potential thieves to operate. I also think it is not so difficult to use current methods of researching plants to get the information you want, but not in the "instantaneous" way you would prefer. I find that there is plenty of information on the web that can help identify plants to species and indicate native origins; but it is information about cultivation and plant preferences and how to use them in a landscape that is the most difficult to find. Plus, there is just a lot of regurgitated misinformation on-line, which I encounter all the time when doing web searches.

I freely share information about plants I grow or design around, as well as photos of client's gardens on-line, but would never be willing to link this to an address-linked data base for privacy and security concerns. In fact, I sometimes find that the information or photos I've posted on some of the rarer things I grow/design with may be the only information available on the web in a search.

So I don't think it is a good idea to try and create such a data base, particularly for private property. In some other countries such as Germany, the issues of privacy have forced Google to back off from this approach, and I would support anyone who feels their privacy has been invaded and doesn't wish to share such information to anyone with a smart phone or computer.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 11:46AM
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Bahia..."inciting"...?? Do you mean as the banker incites robbery?

What type of plants are you envisioning being subjected to theft? I'm envisioning that most plants of a specimen nature--that one would find worth bothering to list in a botanical garden--would be, more or less, un-stealable... large trees and shrubs... the kind of thing someone couldn't steal without a lot of work and time and being much noticed in the process... not potted plants on private property. Even a big clump of perennials can take some time and effort unless one is just after a "start." I can't see thievery as but the most negligible factor.

I don't think knowing the location of the rarest and most exotic of plants is a primary interest for the typical botanical garden user. Most people want to see "what will grow in my yard?" If I had a costly rare plant that I didn't want to chance being stolen (and was small enough to be nabbed) I wouldn't enter it into such a database either.

We can all do research and find out about and I.D. plants, but the most important factor in learning about plants is seeing how plants perform in real life, not in a photo. A trip to a botanical garden creates a lot of interest in plants. It's the tie-in that interests me. It makes learning to i.d plants much easier for those who are beginning.

As for the "invasion of privacy" concern, we're of different schools of thought. If one has a sugar maple tree in their front yard that is clearly visible in a Google streetview, and later that same tree has a label that reads "Acer saccharum" does that label create an invasion of privacy? I cannot close the gap. Everything already exists. It's just a question of putting a label on it.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 6:54PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

"What type of plants are you envisioning being subject to theft?"

Google "cycad theft" and you will get an idea. It's a serious problem.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 3:49AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Maybe it is the difference in regions, but here in my part of the SF Bay Area, there are a lot of designers who use rarer or more expensive plants in their residential garden designs, and calling attention to what is there and making that information available by street address just facilitates theft. This can be a problem in all types of neighborhoods, and I've had clients who've been robbed of plants from their gardens, some more than once. As Kim mentions, cycads are a particular target, but even ordinary types of plants can be taken also. There have been reported thefts of large specimen trees and palms, in the past year, there were even thefts of large specimen palms along freeway right of ways in southern California where they needed to use cranes to remove them, and the removals were done in full daylight. I would see the issue as very similar to thefts of entire household furnishings while owners are on vacation, or break-ins associated with real estate open house viewings, it happens enough for reasonable people to take precautions, so much so that most open house showings now depend on having at least two agents present and having people sign in before they can look at the house.

If only the most common types of plants are entered into such a database, where is the utility? I also think people are more willing to share information about what they grow if this information isn't linked to their exact location. You never know who is likely to use on-line information, and to assume otherwise is just naive in my opinion. If this were more targeted to public parks and street tree plantings, I think there would be less concerns over theft, but then again, vandalism and theft of valuable plants is also a regular occurrence at some of our local botanic gardens. Orchids are typically only exhibited behind locked glass display cases, and the Vireya Rhododendron collections here in Oakland and San Francisco have also been hit hard by thieves.

You seem to feel that this sort of information would only be of interest to gardeners, but the information would be easily accessible to anyone browsing the web.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 4:16AM
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Some problems are solvable. Some aren't. Determining whether a plant is subject to theft is probably only a matter of discretion for anyone adding listings to a virtual botanical garden database. Maybe risks in parts of California can't be reconciled against benefits. It's a judgement call.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 8:37AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Ah, plant theft. Yes, it happens... a peony in full bloom disappearing from a neighbour's garden was my first experience with it. A small japanese maple pulled up from the front yard of an acquaintance was another. From my own yard they went while still in pots.

It isn't always about the plants you would label in such a scheme. What it would do is pinpoint for thieves where the best gardens are. I might showcase my rhodo only to find my mini-conifers gone.

Having said that, no doubt it will come. Once the technology exists, someone will do it with or without the permission of owners. But for stuff where the owners' permission is required...
"I also think people are more willing to share information about what they grow if this information isn't linked to their exact location." Bingo.

I do see what I think you want - a way to design a garden for someone in Florida while still under snow cover in, say, Minneapolis. "just what are they growing around there," the enterprising designer might think. Can't shop the local nursery, but can do the next best thing.

DrtyGrl, does it still look exactly the same across the street as at your house?? What an amazing occurence! I suppose worse things could happen than not being paid for the design... after all they might not have known you designed it yourself. So at least you are looking at a yard you like!

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 8:12PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I fall in with the camp that is concerned with privacy and the very real potential for theft.
I would not want my garden or the gardens of my clients linked to a data base that shows in clear detail the garden 'details' ( sculpture, specimen plants, expensive pottery ) along with the address.

There is a company in Central California that creates 'garden scheme ideas' CD's geared towards the specific growing zones in CA.

This company then targets the Water District in the various counties and sells them these 'educational' CD's to help gardeners gain ideas in designing and planting different types of gardens.
The CD shows a planted garden vignette and you can click on a plant in the garden scene and details of that plant will be detailed in a separate pop up window.

Here is a link to one of their pages :

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:35PM
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"What it would do is pinpoint for thieves where the best gardens are. I might showcase my rhodo only to find my mini-conifers gone." I can believe this is possible. But, as you say, karinl, "no doubt it will come. Once the technology exists, someone will do it" [create a virtual botanical garden.] I think people would have to weigh whether they wanted to attract anyone to their yard where there are small plants that could be pilfered. Also, it seems to me that rather than fear it so much, it's better to figure out how to protect it. I already have a suggestion...that would also work for potential garden thieves operating NOW. I temporarily (which ended up being longer) moved a lot of household goods to a storage shed that was one of those tent-like things with a zipper door that could not be locked. Then, over the next year and a half, it was entered numerous times and things were rummaged through and god-knows-what was taken... but I could never catch the culprit. Then I discovered this cheap (less than $20) "driveway alert" with a wireless remote alarm. The motion detector part is in one place and the alarm part goes in another place. One night about 11:30--while I was home and watching TV--the alarm started going off like crazy. I went to the shed to discover a neighbor teen standing inside in the pitch dark! (I knew the boy.) My mother, using the same gizmo caught someone trying to break into her car in the middle of the night. (She would have otherwise slept through it. Instead, the case is being prosecuted later this month.) $20 from Harbor Freight. It can also catch kids trying to break into the cookie jar or anywhere else they ought not be!

Anyway, it seems the frequent contributors on the forum weigh in on most being afraid to label their plants for a virtual botanical garden for fear of theft. Nevertheless, I think anyone would have to admit that there are plenty of awesome, very large, unstealable plants that are deserving of notoriety or mention in just about any locality. Still, I get the impression that people are thinking too much along the lines of small plants instead of the big mature trees, shrubs and vines... that have achieved noteworthy stature. Today, I saw one of our spectacular flame vines that I would definitely want to see entered in such a virtual garden. The vine covers an 80-90' tall live oak with a hundred feet or better spread. One views it from the road about 200' away. It's out in the country. It's so huge that one needs to be far away to see it all. Yesterday, I saw a creeping fig that was a building. It should be listed. I think I'm thinking about much bigger plants than what some others are thinking about.

"Can't shop the local nursery, but can do the next best thing." I don't envision a VBG as the "next best" thing. I envision it as a vastly superior introduction and learning tool to plants, like a real botanical garden. Because that's actually what it would be. It's just that it would be extensively mapped out and searchable. But the real value is all the other information that people would add (as they do for Wikipedia) about plants that are featured. Nursery tags and plants in pots or B&B not only lack a lot of information, I think they are often misleading as to a plants true personality. For example, bamboo in a pot wouldn't come close to what it's like in the ground. Many of the pictures on tags are close-ups that focus on leaves and flowers. They say little about a plant's form and grand habits.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wireless Driveway Alert

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 2:04AM
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@Karin - we don't live there anymore, but I LOVE your optimism "at least you are looking at a yard you like!"

By the time we moved, it actually didn't look much like our yard. They weren't big into maintenance, and I changed some things over time. I was starting to run out of room there - we had to buy a house with more space!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 12:05PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Thanks, Yardvaark. That is a good system for when you're home, and is merited if you have a big plant investment (whether in big plants or lots of small ones). And what a coincidence - I've actually been looking for something just like that to help catch someone stealing my newspaper quite regularly, but had only seen the more expensive version I've linked below. Maybe this one has a longer range, but with a 20' front yard, I don't need it :-) Currently I have a webcam set up which works for images but not for intercepting, should I wish to do so.

Anyway, I have no quibble with the merit of the plant information in what you propose. But tied to addresses... shouldn't happen. It may, but it shouldn't. There are so many downsides. Imagine you buy a house with a huge whatever that is revered all over the world, and you want to remove it to do something else. The Occupy movement might come to your front yard!

Drtygrl... there's an idea for my new screen name... "silver_lining" I've hated the one I have ever since Garden Web eliminated capital letters and it looks like I've put a #1 after my name, necessitating the correction of a signature :-) Someday I'll change it but the longer I stick with this one, the harder it gets!

Karin L

Here is a link that might be useful: a more expensive version

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 1:00PM
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Wow,Karin L., that's a price factor difference times 6! But it looks like you get an extra feature for that! (FYI, the two components of my "alert" are separated by about 60' and it seems like it could go much further.)

"Imagine you buy a house with a huge whatever that is revered all over the world, and you want to remove it to do something else. The Occupy movement might come to your front yard!" I won't worry about "Occupy," but believe that local governments might use any avenue they can find to "protect" the public from themselves. And, of course, charge them a good bit for it, too!

Karin, you might explore Gardenweb naming possibilities again. I see that my new screen name begins with a capital letter.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Just to let you know, Estonia has become visible in Street View. I'm in Nomme, Tallinn, I won't tell you my address cause there's an ugly pile of branches behind my gate, but have a good time walking around!
I've experienced all kinds of theft but no plant theft yet... hopefully that isn't in my future.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 8:40AM
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All I had to do was search "ugly pile of branches behind gate in Nomme, Tallinn, Estonia" and Google Satellite took me straight to your house! No Kidding! I wrote "wash me!" on the roof of your car thanks to Google Laser! Through the miracle of Google roof-penetrating ultra-sound satellite, I could see you sitting at the computer! Have you been in your pajamas ALL DAY??

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 10:01AM
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That wasn't me, that was a visiting neighbor.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 10:22AM
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It must be very casual over there in Estonia. :-o !

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 10:49AM
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It must be very casual over there in Estonia. :-o !

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 10:50AM
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Hmmm. I wouldn't want it searchable, that's for sure. We have ZERO property crime here because no one really realizes our neighborhood is here, and we have a good stock of stay-at-home moms, work-at-home everything, people on hospital and police shift work, and retirees. (In our cul-de-sac alone, there are almost always 3 of the 6 houses occupied, and often 5 are occupied during the day.) But if people could search for something specific they wanted to steal, then our neighborhood might pop up on their list.

Guess it's another reason for the screen at the front of the property. :-)

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 11:57AM
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It seems like the easy solution is never having anything "steabable" entered into the database. In general, I've thought this idea would be good for major plants, not minor ones. Sometimes I'm in public space and wonder "what is that tree?" It would be great to be able to find it on Streeview and get my answer immediately.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 2:31PM
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