Wetenschap - 8 oktober 2011

New Management for Belmonte arboretum

The future of the Belmonte arboretum in Wageningen has been secured. Wageningen UR, Geldersch Landschap (the Gelderland foundation for landscape and castles), and the Wageningen Arboretum Foundation are going to manage the gardens between them.

The three parties met last Saturday in the 'coach house' of the arboretum to create a new foundation, the Foundation for the Management of Belmonte Arboretum, Wageningen. And so Geldersch Landschap comes back to Belmonte after an absence of sixty years. Wageningen UR took over the gardens from the foundation in 1951. The famous Wageningen professor of Landscape Architecture Jan Bijhouwer developed the garden into a real arboretum for education and research. The gardens at the top of the hill in Wageningen boast a collection of 1,500 species of rhododendrons.

Good deal
But the gardens are no longer needed for scientific research, says the Wageningen UR executive board. So there has been much activity behind the scenes recently to find a way of securing the gardens' future. 'Because we neither can nor want to manage it ourselves', says executive board member Tijs Breuking. Maintaining and managing the Belmonte gardens costs 120,000 euros per year. The costs are going to be shared equally among the three parties. This is a good deal for Wageningen UR, which currently foots the entire bill. The idea is that the foundation should be self-funding within five years. To this end, the new director, Dedde Smit of Geldersch Landschap, will have to do some fund-raising on the market.

Emotions
'I will look for people who want to contribute to one of the most beautiful spots in the Netherlands': this is how Smit describes his task. 'That should be reason enough to put money into it.' What else Smit can offer generous donors he doesn't want to say at this point. 'Of course it has more to do with emotional value that with business matters. You look for people who have a soft spot for the place. Alumni, for instance.'

Secure
Professor Koen Verhoef, ex-DLO director and chair of the Arboretum Foundation Wageningen, thinks it is a great day for the city. 'Because we have been able to secure Belmonte. As a small player with an empty purse.' Verhoef started his foundation last year to prevent the looming demise of the scientific management of Belmonte. Under the new construction, the role of the Arboretum Foundation will be the management and sponsorship of the collection.

Scientific
The new foundation aims to maintain and manage Belmonte as a 'high quality garden.' The loaded term 'scientific management' is carefully avoided. Het Verhoef think that scientific management is still going on, actually. 'There is no more scientific research being done. That was different before, of course. But the management is certainly scientifically sound.'
At any rate, the brand-new collaboration has already born fruit in the form of a new tree. The launch of the new foundation was marked by planting a specimen of a still unrepresented species of apple tree.
Wageningen UR is also going to restore the iron flower, the garden's iconic artwork. This sculpture by Huub Kortekaas was installed in 1976 and is now in poor condition.  

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