By Xevy Zhang
As a landscape architecture student for several years now I’ve adapted to working in a group. But mostly I’m by myself, with only the company of a computer. So if you’ve observed a tiny figure working with graphics software in the storied “bullpen” (a former lab room at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, now used by interns) or the third floor of the Reader Center at Nichols Arboretum, or sometimes in the wild with a clipboard in hand—that’s me accomplishing my main summer storyline: mapping the Arb and Gardens.
Our hard-copy archive.
Before we initiated the project there was already a collection of hard copy blueprints, Google map clips, and hand-drawn maps. But they all presented some issue that made them less than ideal for archiving or daily use. For example, over time, many of the blueprint maps became outdated and no longer accurate. The ink fades and the paper ages, making the blueprints too vulnerable to be written on or used in the field. And it takes a relatively large amount of time and money to update the blueprints whenever changes are needed, and it’s not worthwhile to make a whole new map when only a small part of the garden is altered. Likewise, for keeping archives for the gardens during different years, scanning seems to be a plausible way, but making changes for updated information makes the task difficult and time-consuming.
With these challenges in mind, my supervisor—Matthaei-Nichols Field services Manager Jeff Plakke—and I concluded that creating a whole new set of vector-based digital blueprint-style maps using graphic software such as AutoCAD, and storing them on the staff-accessible drive so that future changes can be made, is the best way to replacing the existing paper maps. These digital maps can easily be exported to any size PDF and used for a number of purposes. In addition, we decided to create a set of colorized display maps.
When I started the project in May of 2016, I was shown the large collection of existing files—both paper and digital—that the Gardens currently holds. Most of them were created years ago. They were beautifully archived but in such great numbers and multiple versions that I felt a bit overwhelmed at first. Could I finish the job? I decided that the way to go would be to learn the mapping language from the existing files while striving to be graphically expressive, with a goal of making the maps detailed, precise, easily readable, and—most challenging of all—tidy and beautiful. Here’s a rough idea of what I do:
With the help of Google Maps/Earth, a GPS or a GPS smartphone, previous maps, and GIS data, I outlined the general frame of the gardens.
The frame and lineworks of the Matthaei Botanical
Gardens display gardens. Red color represents boulders,
rock walls, and buildings.
Then outside I go!—to mark down the trees and their names, benches, rocks, and other details.

Major trees and names added,
diameter of tree crowns almost to scale.

I found a useful way to use the Google map app in the process (see photos below). Try it yourself. Log into your Google account; click and hold a point on the map, then click label (I’ve crossed out the Chinese characters on the images and written the instructions in English). After labelling those points, open the Google Map web version and. . .  behold! This is how I get a general location and info on something outdoors without having to print it out, bring the print out, write it down, and then copy it again. A great timesaver!
Here’s how I operate on my phone. Not just for mapping, this function is also very useful for marking down places and taking notes while you’re out exploring.
How the web-version map looks like with those points.
Add annotations and labels in AutoCAD, and trying to figure out a way to arrange them — legible and adequate for readers to get a general idea of what they are but not overwhelming.

Lay out in a proper scale, add legend and titles, and export
(into grayscale) as blueprints (though not blue).

The layout view of the Gateway Garden in AutoCAD.


Gateway Garden map, after being colorized.

The coloring process uses Adobe Photoshop, and while coloring one can increase or reduce the level of detail as need according to the scale and main function of the colored map. For example, if the map shows the whole Great Lakes Gardens and is only 11″ x 17,” it would be better to leave the labels of tree names out as they would in that case be too small to recognize.
It’s been great joy to work in the gardens on this program and to see that some of the maps have already helped the team! Nearly the entire Matthaei Botanical Gardens property (including trails) will be mapped by the end of this summer, as well as some zones in Nichols Arboretum. I hope that these maps will be helpful as orienting tools for garden installation and maintenance. Combined with the help of programming and GPS locationing, they could even be developed into a detailed interactive guide for visitors!
For the field services team at Matthaei-Nichols,
a printed and laminated map that can be drawn
on with a dry-erase marker.

Xevy Zhang returns to Matthaei-Nichols for a second summer internship. She will enter her last semester in fall 2017 at the University of Michigan to complete a master’s degree in landscape architecture. Xevy loves plants and nature, as well as drawing/painting, cooking, and sci-fi. She’s been working on mapping the gardens with CAD, Photoshop, and visualizations. Xevy’s internship is made possible by the Research Endowment Fund created by donor Marjorie Alpern to promote and support research in botany and related studies that will enhance the scientific basis for wise management of the environments of the earth.