• Shainna M. Callaway

A Plant Filing System

Updated: Mar 29

This is our last year in Italy and I chose to spend all of our vacations visiting some of the great gardens and parks of this country. One place that I was expecting to find underwhelming but necessary was the ancient botanical garden in Padua. I am always corrected for my negative predispositions. I absolutely loved it. I literally walked until I was shaking with low blood sugar, left the grounds for a quick meal and espresso, and then returned with my family until almost closing time.


The Botanical Garden of Padova is not like a normal garden. Most of the plants are not groomed to perfection or always placed complimentary for aesthetics. It is a place to study botany and laid out accordingly to help one memorize similarities in species. The overall effect is sheer brilliance which accounts for the longevity of the design and ongoing status of interest.

This photo was taken at Orto Botanico di Padova in Italia 2019.

Having just begun to seriously try to understand plants and the science of cataloguing them, this garden blew me away. My daughter joined me on the afternoon trip and went aisle to aisle pretending to take photos with her plastic toy phone in imitation of what she thought we were both doing. It brings me feelings of love and longing remembering our time together inside the rows trying to find plants that interested us. Also, at times like these, I am grateful for stereotypes as my dominant asian features allow me the freedom to photograph everything I want from the plants to the drain grates without a fear of feeling more foolish. Just knowing that I can recreate visiting the garden through my photographic narratives whenever I wish helps me to have some semblance of dignity when the time comes for me to exit not knowing if I will ever be able to return. Internally, I am like a child being told they must leave a playground for reasons that do not feel fair.


There were trees older than my country beaming with pride. To be a tree in a garden; the focal point of life and longevity. The noble palm, though, was being sheltered in a pretty glass cage that kept it covered in the Mediterranean dust without any assistance of a shower or gentle wiping of its leaves. This was one of the many times that I felt this space was more of a study hall than a garden. Would it be just a garden would these plants be shown more tenderness? Still, the international variety, layout, and labeling has won me over and redirects an apology in my criticisms. Who am I to judge? I have killed plants every year with my ongoing ignorance like a remorseful sadist.

This photo was taken at Orto Botanico di Padova in Italia 2019.

The grids of the inner sanctum were amazing with the teachings of plants and their connection to human health. I found recognizable weeds and herbs fascinating in how they were labeled and wished more gardens would include descriptions for usage on their cards. There is also a section of poisonous plants that is brilliant. I loved walking by and thinking, “who ate that to find out it wasn’t edible? What is the story behind how they found out it was a triple toxicity level instead of a single level?” I also understand now or imagine how boxwoods became common fences because deer would know they were deadly to eat and might leave a garden hidden inside that hedge line alone.


The multiple rooms and climates in the greenhouse had me doing two laps to truly appreciate it. They had stairs that led to walkways where the plants could also be viewed at the treetops. Along the way were invigorating stories of the Darwins and educational kiosks of human interactions with nature and our dependence upon the knowledge of what surrounds us. My inner child cried out its want to be a scientist and to know the world in ways yet undiscovered. How life changes from being young to being old. As a child I dreamt of saving the entire world with all the unbridled passions of youth, and at middle age I narrowly contemplate what minuscule background role I can still play in the tiniest corner on this invisible speck of time. I was grateful to feel that fervor again as I traversed the lengths of this wonderful garden.

This photo was taken at Orto Botanico di Padova in Italia 2019.

I walked away after doing my usual round in the gift shop. Having Ian indulge me in buying a book on the garden, a magnet if possible, and whatever trinkets my daughter wants, but it didn’t feel quite enough for me this time. I long to return and to actually take a class at that school attached to the garden. I want to have the chance to fill out this historical diagram and to take that knowledge with me around the world.


The importance of this garden should be mimicked everywhere. If I had a magic wand that allowed me to rule the world, I would install a replica of Padua into every university with required field trips from elementary students. I wish I had the opportunities and understanding I have now when I had the limitless potentials of childhood.


If I could only live a thousand lifetimes and enjoy each wonder at leisure...


Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌼


This photo was taken at Orto Botanico di Padova in Italia 2019.



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-Shainna Mathilda (Dusoe) Callaway