New Director of Botanical Gardens Announced at the Huntington

Nicole Cavender will join The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens on May 17

PHOTO: Provided by Morton Arboretum | News | Nicole Cavender has been appointed as the new Director of Botanical Gardens at the Huntington


The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today the appointment of Nicole Cavender as the Telleen/Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. Cavender, currently serving as vice president of science and conservation at the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum in Chicago, will join The Huntington on May 17, 2021. She will be the first woman to hold the position.

“Through our international search, Nicole emerged as someone who has the key attributes we need for this multi-faceted position,” said Karen R. Lawrence, Huntington President. “She has a record of energetic and visionary team leadership, a strong background in both botanical research and horticulture, and a commitment to nurturing the connection between people and plants through the display, exhibition, and interpretation of botanical collections.”

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The Huntington encompasses 207 acres, 130 of which are themed gardens open to the public.

“I am overjoyed by this opportunity — to work at the world-class Huntington, among amazing colleagues and with a vast collection, where I can bring to bear my love of plants, my devotion to the study of biodiversity, and my desire to improve the human connection to and appreciation of nature,” said Cavender. “This is a dream job at a critical point in time, especially for those of us who think and care deeply about conservation and sustainability, climate change, and the role botanical gardens have to play in this work.”

Cavender holds a B.S. in environmental and plant biology from Ohio University and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in horticulture and crop science. Before moving to the Morton Arboretum in 2012, she served as chief programmatic officer at The Wilds, a 10,000-acre wildlife conservation center in southeastern Ohio.

At The Huntington, Cavender will oversee a staff of 85 and several hundred volunteers in caring for more than a dozen gardens, including the renowned Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, and Desert Garden. In addition, she will be actively involved in developing and expanding botanical education, outreach, and research programs. Along with the gardens, the botanical division at The Huntington also includes a seed bank, tissue culture lab, and a cryopreservation lab focused on developing protocols for freezing plant tissue at extremely low temperatures and then bringing them back to life at a later date — an arm of research crucial to conservation and sustainability of rare species.

Among the major projects in which Cavender will initially be engaged when she joins the staff is the addition of a 350-year-old magistrate’s house from Marugame, Japan, which was donated to The Huntington. The fully dismantled house currently is being reconstructed in the Japanese Garden with the assistance of a team of Japanese artisans. Once complete, visitors will have the opportunity to enter the house and enjoy the experience of learning about a traditional Japanese residence and garden.