Art Imitates Life

Writing text for interpretive panels is an art unto itself. The consultant needs to work closely with the clients to determine the purpose or intent of the message.

This is followed by conducting the necessary research, developing preliminary drafts, and submitting them to the clients for their reaction.

Often, a sharp knife is needed to cut away words and edit the text to its core. This process is repeated until the clients are totally satisfied with the product.

In 2004, the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho, sought assistance in planning its Lewis and Clark Native Plants Garden. The Garden wanted an extensive series of interpretive panels and wayfinding signs.

A knowledgeable volunteer committee–including a historian, Forest Service biologist, and Native American expert, among others–was established to provide input and review drafts of the materials.

The members’ expertise and insightful comments proved useful in refining the topics, editing the draft panels, and ensuring that the messages were readable by a wide-ranging audience.

The audience for the Native Plants Garden includes busloads of fourth graders studying Idaho history, armchair historians, tourists, and backyard gardeners.

In this case, a hierarchy of signs was utilized for the wayfinding system. In the outdoor shelter, the visitor is provided with an orientation of the garden as well as the Corps of Discovery’s route with wall panels.

There are orientation map panels at strategic locations as well as vertical panels–explanation points–that announce the arrival at a new environmental zone, such as the Plants of the Canyons shown in Photo L.   Other eco-tones, such as the wetlands, prairies, and mountains are revealed with similar signs.

Just as Lewis and Clark required maps and the guidance of Native Americans to find their way to the Pacific, visitors to the parks and gardens can benefit from well-designed interpretive panels and wayfinding devices.

Don Brigham, Jr., is a landscape architect with over 29 years of experience designing spaces for the enjoyment of people. His firm is headquartered along the Washington-Idaho border from which he serves clients throughout the Northwest. Since 1984 he has served as Adjunct Faculty in the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Idaho.








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