by Richard Bryant
I work in curation at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. So what exactly is “curation,” you may ask?
Curation integrates the planning, collection, preservation, and maintenance of objects and data about those objects for management, historical, and research purposes. Adding a further layer of complexity, curation in a botanical garden also may include physical objects that are too big to hold, such as a grove of trees.
There is usually a curator who oversees objects or data in a museum or other location of an exhibition. Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum is no exception as it helps people form or enrich their relationships with plants, nature, and the environment. To do this, Matthaei-Nichols curator Dr. David C. Michener must maintain a thorough documentation of our past and present plant collections. One of the most notable collections I have worked with this summer is the digital version of the peony garden—its database.
I worked as an intern for Matthaei-Nichols in the summer of 2012 and returned this May under the supervision of Dr. Michener. Upon my return I found that the database had somehow undergone a mislink. Many plants at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum—and in particular the peonies as we refine and enhance our new website devoted to the peony garden—have both a Plant ID and an Object ID. The former tells us what type of plant it is and the latter tells us which specific item it is. These serve to link data that are stored in various digital locations so that when a visitor, member, researcher, student or other person needs information on a plant such as confirmation of its existence, its location, its color, or its history, this information is readily available. Due to the mislink of data, much of the information on the peony website was in the wrong location: historical information about the peony Adelaide E. Hollis might have shown up on the web page for peony Walter Morgan, for example. It was then a long and grueling task to correct an entire database that through technical issues had become grossly incoherent.
Accurate records of the peony garden are particularly important. When the peonies are in bloom, visitors from all over the world come to Nichols Arboretum. If you see an especially beautiful peony, you may want to know what it is so you can buy one and add it to your own garden. If you volunteer in the garden, you may need information about a specific peony.

As an intern at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, I am one of the few who is not frequently out in the field taking care of the property—most of my work is done in front of a computer screen. Even so, I feel incredibly proud to have helped the public be able to find the correct information on the peonies, and to have helped the staff keep accurate records that will be referred to and used to make decisions for years to come.

Richard Bryant, from Rochester Hills, MI, is a master’s candidate in statistics at the University of Michigan with Bachelor of Science degrees in economics and statistics.