Reba Luiken, a historian, botanist, and architect of encounters with plants, has been named the new director of the Allen Centennial Garden. Luiken, who hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota, has a Ph.D. in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, a B.S. in Plant Biology, and a B.A. in Religious Studies, all from the University of Minnesota. She brings experience in museums and public gardens from Longwood Gardens, the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where she worked in public programs, visitor engagement, and exhibit development.
Learn more about Luiken in the short Q&A below.
What attracted you to this position at UW–Madison?
I was very interested in the programs that staff at Allen Centennial Garden were working on. They have a reputation in the public garden world for inclusive and innovative programs, and I wanted to be a part of that. It is also a really good combination of a small garden, with room for doing lots of different kinds of projects, in a larger institution, which provides more security. I’m excited to build partnerships with people from across campus and beyond to make Allen Centennial Garden a hub of experiential learning and community formation on campus.
What is your vision for the Garden? Do you have any near-term plans to make changes to programming and/or the physical space?
My vision for the garden is still developing. I want to continue ACG’s philosophy of of-by-and-for all, which means I’m starting out with listening to the garden’s current community to better understand what a collective vision for ACG might be. I want to make sure that our plans for the future are inclusive of the visions of students, staff, volunteers, faculty and community members.
We’re currently working on a few smaller remodeling projects in the garden like rebuilding a wall and adding phone charging stations to the Terrace area. Later this year, we will be creating and opening the Wyman Kitchen Garden in the current kitchen garden space. It is named for the late Dr. Jeff Wyman, who was a professor of entomology at UW. His research focused on vegetable crop entomology. The next project after that is changing the paths in the Rock Garden to prevent wash outs and to make them wheelchair accessible.
What does it mean to be an “architect of encounters with plants?”
Good architects carefully consider how people are going to experience a space and the impact they would like this space to have on the people who use it. As someone who is trained as an interpreter (think park ranger, not translator), I like to think a lot about the way that information will be communicated. There may be some really important facts to communicate about plants, but someone is much more likely to remember that information through hands-on experiences, stories that connect with their emotions, or teaching someone else than by reading a textbook. A garden is full of opportunities to provide all of these kinds of encounters.