Local Gardening Couple Is Connecting the World with Plants

by | Oct 10, 2014 | Business

By Susan Larson

Bill Blevins and his wife Tracy, a Master Gardener, faced a gardening dilemma.

“At each successive house we had a big garden,” Bill said. “We’d install plant tags, make notes, take pictures and even post online. Each time we moved, we left behind a beautiful garden for someone else to enjoy, and all we had was a jumbled mess of notes and photos scattered all over the web and in journals in our basement.”

Bill wanted a database where he could keep all his plant notes and photos “I realized it would be great to have a database accessible by phone, so I could have it with me in the yard,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to do it.”

At lunch with friends one Thursday, the conversation gave Bill the idea of using QR codes on plant tags to connect to static webpages that would allow him to add photos and take notes for each individual plant. One friend at that lunch was a National Park Service ranger trained in horticulture. “If you build this, the National Park Service would love it,” Bill’s friend said.

The very next week Bill’s company was cosponsoring Startup Weekend Fredericksburg. He asked his boss if he could participate. “I figured I could represent my company and make this pitch just for fun. Maybe someone would help get my database started.”

That was January 2014. Bill received more than a little help. “A group of crazy talented people put together a basic product over the weekend,” Bill said.

It was a great start, and Bill and Tracy kept at it nights and weekends. They captured the interest of friends in the gardening community and Plants Map became a full-time business in April 2014. They hired their first employee in September. Nick Cadwallender, former president and publisher of the Free Lance-Star, will serve as senior vice president, strategic partnerships.

Plants Map is a mobile friendly website that allows individuals and organizations to create a webpage for each of their plants, including photos, notes, growing information and links to favorite reference pages and videos. It’s not an app, so there’s nothing to download.

Plants Map users can purchase interactive plant tags that enable access to the online information for that plant. In the same way, public gardens can engage visitors through their mobile devices to like plants in the collection and learn more about the organization.

Plants Map is social gardening. Users can share their profile, garden, collections and plant pages with others on Plants Map, and via other social networks including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Organizations can produce a Network Map of members, supporters, volunteers and organizations. Plants Map is free for individuals, nonprofit organizations and schools.

The Village of Gridley, Ill. was one of Plants Map’s first clients. Residents of the village donated 40 trees for the park, each in memory of a loved one. A tag on each tree links to the webpage for that tree, which gives the history of the tree and tells for whom and by whom it was donated.

Spotsylvania Greenways Initiative recently installed tags on 30 trees along Salamander Loop.

Bill and his team are working now to enable organizations to upload plant inventories to the site. They’ve imported the USA National Phenology Network list of plant species to Plants Map. “This will enable citizen scientists to file all their data on Plants Map, and allow the network scientists to review the data submitted for each individual plant,” Bill said.

Plants Map does not want to be the scientific database of record. They want to be the social link to the scientific databases. “Our goal is to create the worlds largest social database for plants,” Bill said.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of Front Porch Fredericksburg. It is reprinted here with permission.

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