Ups Medicinal Plant Conservation Award – Hope Taft

Hope Taft

This year we honor Hope Taft, Ohio’s First Lady from 1999 to 2007, with United Plant Savers Medicinal Plant Conservation Award. As First Lady, Hope transformed the Governor’s Mansion grounds into a stunning showcase of Ohio’s native plants. The “Heritage Garden” Hope created depicts many of Ohio’s native, unique, rare and at-risk plants represented in recreations of Ohio’s diverse geological areas. Numerous gardens have been established on the grounds including those of Ohio’s meadows, sand dunes, prairies, Appalachia, rock and fen, bog, pioneer, and several others. These are just some of the various features that have been recreated on the grounds to showcase the unique habitats and the plants they are home to.

I first met Hope in the Fall of 2022 when I was invited to attend a tour of the Heritage Gardens led by Hope. After getting cleared by the Ohio State Highway Patrol to be on the Governor’s Mansion Grounds, we were led by Hope into the gardens. On that day, the gardens were bustling with activity as volunteers worked diligently caretaking the gardens and grounds. Hope’s passion and knowledge of Ohio’s plants and conservation issues surrounding them were apparent before we even stepped through the entry gate. Immediately Hope began to share her knowledge about the plants and the grounds as well as the unique geological features. Every plant, shrub, tree, and habitat had an impressive story to tell. Hope’s pride in these gardens as well as in the natural history of Ohio itself shone through and captivated all who were in attendance that day.

20220902_144030 center for medicinal plant building with group

Plant passionate people are few and far between, and it is even more rare that someone in a position of influence uses their time to raise awareness around important ecological issues. Hope seems to have given herself over to the plants. I see Hope as a person who has been used by the plants to get their message out and to share with anyone who is interested all the amazing benefits, stories, and history they hold. This is a phenomenon we have also witnessed in some of our best plant teachers, herbalists, woods workers, and practitioners. My teacher, Paul Strauss, would call this the “green spark,” and he has carried it and passed it on to countless others over the decades. Hope shares this same green spark and has honed her skills at passing it on through her work and passion, sharing and educating others about Ohio’s wonderful flora. Hope particularly enjoys showing and sharing her gardens with the youth of the surrounding area and caters to many youth groups and school-aged children. I’m certain she has made quite an impression on countless children whose lives will be forever changed in some way, whether small or large, based on their time with Hope.

In late 2022 the Ohio Governor’s Mansion Heritage Gardens became a member of the United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary Network. Beyond her work on the Heritage Gardens, Hope is an honorary Master Gardener and an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist. She is a trained instructor for the Landscape for Life program developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center, the U.S. Botanical Garden, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. She joined neighbors to form Little Miami River Kleeners and the Little Miami Watershed Network to help preserve and protect the Little Miami River. A former board member of the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm, she is a member of the Garden Club of Dayton and much more.

Hope is the perfect recipient for this year’s Medicinal Plant Conservation Award. Her work, strong beliefs, and passion around Ohio’s plants have created a legacy landscape on the Governor’s grounds that will continue to provide an experience and an education for generations to come.