New Signature Offering: Plant Adoption Day

October 10, 2018


Now, more than ever, there is a need to address plant blindness. In 1998, American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler defined Plant Blindnessas, “the inability to recognize or notice the plants in one’s environment, leading to the failure to appreciate the importance of plantsin the biosphere and in human affairs.”

The number one cause of plant blindness is a lack of meaningful experiences with plants.

A meaningful experience is one that invokes curiosity and builds affinity and awareness. These experiences are achieved through community co-creation and participation, carefully crafting offerings with, rather than for, intended audiences.

Indoor plants in particular are a low-stakes point of entry to a deeper understanding and appreciation of plants and are particularly effective for students who don’t have access to a traditional garden space.

Three students at Plant Adoption Day

The inaugural Plant Adoption Day in September 2018 embraced the “with, not for” program methodology, supplying more than 1,200 UW-Madison students with their own houseplant. Students were responsible for not only growing the plants that were given away, but were also directly involved in the adoption process, educating new “plant parents” about each plant’s unique needs. This empowering information was augmented by Master Gardener volunteers through UW-Extension, who provided in-depth knowledge and guidance. This intergenerational exchange helped to build a continuum of gardener mentors and is a conversation that continues to develop through the Plant Parents of UW-Madison initiative.

Long line of students waiting to get new plants!

Plant Parents of UW-Madison is a collaborative social media and program outreach project between Garden staff and Master Gardener volunteers. An Instagram account (managed by a Garden intern) provides a portal for students to submit specific questions to Master Gardeners while also providing a space to build a community of plant lovers through fun memes and sharing care instructions.

Students smiling with new plants

Follow-up programs such as pop-up “Ask the Expert” stations in campus dorms and libraries will continue building connections through Spring 2019. These stations will be staffed by Master Gardeners with support from Garden staff and student interns.

Ultimately, the future success of Plant Parents of UW-Madison, of which Plant Adoption Day is now a signature offering, will be defined by the evolution of a passionate and connected community of successful gardeners who embrace horticulture in all its forms, both on and off the UW-Madison campus. Plant Adoption Day demonstrated an unexpected hunger for plants within our community, and the Garden was forced to turn away hundreds of people once all plants were gone. The Facebook event garnered more than 3,000 direct engagements and was seen by nearly 75,700 unique individuals, 55% of whom were 18–24-year-olds from Wisconsin.

Line of Students wrapped around the Garden

You can support the Plant Parents Program and Plant Adoption Day when you become a member of the Friends of Allen Centennial Garden. The Friends provide critical financial support that allow the Garden to grow and expand our offerings.


by Ben Futa | Executive Director