Incoming Botanic Garden CEO, president excited about new position

After helping to lead the Leichtag Foundation as its current chief scientist and working as the executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, Ari Novy is ready to tackle his new duties as the new president and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas.

Novy, an Encinitas environmental commissioner, will replace Julian Duval, who is retiring from the president and CEO position after 24 years in January. The garden's board has yet to determine when Novy will officially start his new position.

The Botanic Garden will host a gala in Duval's honor Sept. 8 from 5 to 11 p.m.

Novy, who was selected as Duval's replacement in late July, recently shared his excitement for his new role and discussed what makes him qualified for the job.

What made you interested in the position?

I came several years ago when I was the executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden to a meeting at the San Diego Botanic Garden, and I was struck by a lot of things. The climate here is amazing for plants. This place has a reputation for being one of the most temperate climates in all of North America, which means as long as we can bring in enough water, there's really a larger variety of plants that can be grown together than almost anywhere else in the United States.

How have your experiences at the Leichtag Foundation and the U.S. Botanic Garden prepared you for your new role?

I was really honored and thrilled to run our national garden in Washington, DC. Of course, there, I learned a lot about how the larger botanic garden runs and how to manage that kind of institution. I'm excited to bring that knowledge and skill base to the San Diego Botanic Garden, which I think is an amazing institution that really has the potential to have a huge reach. The Leichtag Foundation has been getting a little bit back into science and running research programs... with interesting kinds of plant researchers. ... It's a really rich environment for thinking about all the wonderful uses that we have of plants in society. ... I've really been excited to learn about how that happens in this climate. I've been a part of bringing some new opportunities here that demonstrate new technologies. We're in the process now of building a transparent Teflon greenhouse showcasing some interesting Israeli technologies that may be useful for growers in Southern California. I've gotten to really familiarize myself with the most up-to-date, as well as the good old tried and true methods, of doing horticulture in this climate.

What are your feelings on replacing Julian?

Julian is amazing. I always think of him as an amazing naturalist. You walk around with him, whether it's at the Botanic Garden or even some of the natural lands in the area, and he knows the plants amazingly. He also knows the lizards, the birds, the ecology and the zoology. He's an amazing geologist. He's almost like a renaissance man of naturalism. He knows all this stuff and can weave it together. You look at the plant, and you realize you're not only looking at the plant with Julian, you're looking at the soil, the air and the animals. He does that so well and with such passion. He's just such a resource. One of the best parts about me taking the job is I get to walk around so much with Julian and hear and learn more and more all the time from him.

What is the transition process going to be like?

It's up to the board to decide on the transition date. Obviously, Julian's been running the garden for 24 years. There are going to be so many parties celebrating his accomplishments and tenure here. I'm very pleased that I'm able to be flexible to accommodate whatever the best strategy is.

What are some of your biggest goals for the Botanic Garden? What are you looking forward to there?

The Dickinson Family Education Conservatory is going to open later this year. That's going to be amazing. The garden doesn't have an indoor space that size, so it's going to be a plant-filled space and a place for education, meetings and events. That's a major milestone. The Botanic Garden has what I like to refer to as the best problem, which is that too many people want to come to it. Obviously, the garden has been built over the years for a smaller visitation audience than now comes. People love it more than initially envisioned 10 or 20 years ago when infrastructure was being installed. You have this excellent problem of asking how do we accommodate a larger number of visitors than anybody thought would come? That's an exciting challenge.

How did you get started in this type of work?

I love telling people that I got my career in gardens started as a volunteer. It was one of my first jobs after I graduated college. I ended up running a student gardening program, and I loved doing it so much that I sort of began volunteering my own time in the garden. That led me to a career in horticulture.

Would you encourage others to volunteer at the garden?

Absolutely. I encourage everybody to come to the garden, to be a part of the garden. Gardens are really unique cultural expressions of the communities that make them up. That happens best when the people in the community participate, whatever that means. It's visitors, giving workshops, taking workshops, volunteers, donors, local experts, bringing the kids... All of those things are just as integral to the fabric of the garden as the plants.

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