News

Botanical garden taps smartphone technology

Bonnie Harpel, plant records volunteer at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, demonstrates the Tap to Learn system planned for launch in June with her 1-year-old son, Jude. - Brandon Macz
Bonnie Harpel, plant records volunteer at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, demonstrates the Tap to Learn system planned for launch in June with her 1-year-old son, Jude.
— image credit: Brandon Macz

The Bellevue Botanical Garden is embracing its tech-savvy community by making education about its myriad plants as easy as getting on your smartphone.

Funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Tap to Learn program uses tags with encoded chips inside the plant beds that work with both near field communication and quick response (QR) code readers in a person's phone.

By tapping the tag in a garden bed — scanning if you use a QR reader on an iPhone — the phone will access an informational page detailing all the data about a certain plant.

"So they can figure out what's what without having to have labels everywhere," said Nancy Kartes, garden manager. "That way the visitor decides what they're interested in and we don't clutter these beautiful gardens with signs everywhere."

There are more than 2,000 plant species in the Bellevue Botanical Garden's database, which meant a lot of the groundwork was already covered, said Bill McKay, founder of Answers in Hand, which handled coding the tags in the garden.

"It's going to be subtle, but it's going to be well recognized when you come into the garden that these are here and it's going to be all through the garden," he said.

The city is working toward completion of a new visitor at the center with a grand opening slated for mid-June, which is when Kartes said she hopes to debut the Tap to Learn program. Knowledgeable guides also will be equipped with tablets to assist garden goers.

McKay also has partnered with the botanical garden to offer local nurseries similar tags, letting their customers tap into the BBG's database to educate themselves about the plants available for sale.

"We're finally at a spot here where we're out of the pilot phase and ready to support people who need this functionality," he said.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 24 edition online now. Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates