Flore de Gand: horticultural treasures in Ghent
The general public isn’t always aware of Ghent’s rich history of horticulture. The Flore de Gand (Flora of Ghent) project team therefore set out to showcase its blossoming horticulture from the 19th and first half of the 20th century. We digitised historic herbariums, archive pieces and image content for this, and made them accessible and available to the general public.
Ghent’s rich history of horticulture (link in Dutch) and associated tangible and intangible heritage isn’t very widely known. But Flore de Gand (‘Flora of Ghent’), a Ghent University project, has aimed to change all this by focusing on three leading Ghent botanists and their wonderful herbariums. The collections of Aimé (link in Dutch) and Julius Mac Leod, and Charles Van Hoorebeke (in Dutch), offer fascinating insights into nature in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, and into the beginnings and relocation of the Ghent University Botanical Garden in 1903. Ghent University’s ambition for Flore de Gand was to draw up an inventory of these herbariums, and contextualise and digitise them. We then made the results accessible to the general public as well as to scientists.
The project relied on cooperation between various disciplines and co-creation by members of the public because the project team wanted their active involvement, amongst others via crowdsourcing. Historical images of horticulture in and around Ghent were collected, and the most common points of interest (POI) were highlighted on an interactive map, so that people could follow walking and cycling routes to actively engage with this horticultural heritage.
Learn more about the project in this colourful report:
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As well as actively participating in meetings and steering groups, meemoo also contributed in two other ways: we advised on the sustainable storage of the materials created and metadata, and provided support and advice to make this content available on Wikimedia platforms. We look at these two key tasks in more detail below.
1. Meemoo advised on sustainable storage of materials created and metadata
The Flore de Gand project resulted in the creation of digital images from the digitised herbariums and crowdsourcing. These images also had metadata added to them, and we used digital technology to validate, digitise, save and link all the data. Together with the other project partners, we looked for:
a sustainable storage format;
a correct delivery method to the digital archive;
a solution for the ultimate sustainable storage.
Ghent University is taking care of the stored file management, which primarily concerns the digitised herbariums, but also involves managing the historical insights gained from crowdsourcing.
2. Meemoo shared expertise on making content accessible via Wikimedia platforms
The Flore de Gand project made use of Wikipedia, Wikimedia and Wikidata platforms. Together with the project’s heritage partners we ran workshops about collection accessibility on Wikimedia platforms, with a view to making the herbariums available online.
The Flore de Gand project consisted of three phases. An initial phase started in September 2018 and ended in the summer of 2019. The second phase started in the autumn of 2019 and was completed in June 2020. And phase three ended in 2021.
Ghent University’s IDLab made tools available in this project. At the end of the process, we provided these tools and the results we produced to the heritage sector via various platforms, workshops and public events in order to teach heritage managers how to get started with interactive tools.
1. Digitising herbariums
To prepare for digitising the herbarium, in phase 1 we optimised the digitisation procedure and provided a quality measurement. The herbariums contain fragile, partially bound herbarium sheets – simple pieces of paper that hold the dried and pressed plant parts, possibly labelled with the name and place of origin . We developed scripts based on RAW image files, a procedure that automatically improves the quality of the image if necessary. This checks the focus and white balance, among other things, in addition to automatically straightening the sheets, cropping and colour chart detection to produce an optimal image.
In the second phase, we digitised the herbariums and added them to the Meise Botanic Garden virtual herbarium together with their inventory. We then saved the herbariums on Ghent University’s servers for sustainable storage.
2. Collecting archive items, images and stories
The search for photographs, prints and posters in publications and image databases began in the second part of the Flore de Gand project – after we had drawn up an inventory and digitised relevant archive items and historical images from the University Archive and Herbarium (links in Dutch) in the first phase. This search intensified in phase two, with enthusiastic interested parties providing relevant materials through crowdsourcing.
The coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on the public part of the project. In addition to a pilot event in the Krook in the first phase, Flore de Gand would also have reached a wide audience during Floralies 2020 in a second phase. We would have encouraged members of the public to bring in relevant photos and stories, scan them and add metadata via an interactive table, but this aspect may still be included as part of Floralies 2022 once the project is complete.
We then extracted points of interest from all these images, and you can browse through this collection on an interactive map (in Dutch). We also added extra context to some points of interest to be included in walking and cycling routes, and visitors can create personalised walks using IDLab’s dynamic routing tool.
3. One big narrative
The development of the interactive map started in the second phase. This map contains the locations of plants from the herbariums over time and geotagged media, and also forms a gateway to other collections. This creates links between collections and across platforms. We’ve been able to collect data from Wikidata, Botanical Collections, waarnemingen.be and even other heritage bodies on a single map. This linked data is also available for further research. One example is the Lamb of God demo where you can browse through the plants on the famous altarpiece.
Finally, in phase three we uploaded the herbariums together with the collected photos and reports and linked everything to Ghent University’s heritage portal, so that Flore de Gand tells a single coherent story. Links will also be added to Archiefbank Vlaanderen, Meise Botanic Garden and the Belgian Biodiversity Platform. The collected content has also been included on Wiki platforms, so the general public can now look up and research all the collected data themselves.