Betty Scholtz, director emeritus of Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, NY

{This article appeared in September 1980 in South African Garden & Home; reproduced with kind permission. Written by Pepe Sofianos; photographs by Don Watson.}

Brooklyn Botanic Garden rock garden
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Rock Garden. Photographer: Don Watson, South African Garden & Home

Betty welcomed us as if she had known us for ages. Recent visitors to the BBG were members of the Japanese royal family and members of the People's Republic of China. She floored them all with her soft-spoken gentleness, her refinement and her expert knowledge.

The Japanese delegates and the Royal Family were rather amazed and a little shocked to see that a woman was in charge of such a world-famous and intricate institution.

But then this is Betty - her whole life is the botanic garden. In fact, she admitted rather shamefacedly, that she possessed only one houseplant, and that was a rather ordinary ficus Benjemina. Yet, as she says, ‘‘I don't need a garden at home. This is my garden, all 50 acres of it. I probably spend 300 out of 365 days a year away from home, so when I'm here, it makes up for it.’’

She loves showing people around the garden and each new project or improvement is like a child to her. She nurses and cossets it until it reaches maturity and then she lovingly admires it. She travels a lot giving talks on the BBG and has also paid a lecture tour to South Africa on the subject, which she still remembers fondly.

Betty practically grew into her present position, and after working at the Garden for close on 12 years she was the logical choice. She is the only woman director of a major urban botanic garden in the United States and the fourth director in the history of the BBG, founded in 1910. She served as acting director for one year prior to her appointment as the director in 1973.

She assumed responsibility for the 20 ha BBG, the 89 ha Kitchawan Research Laboratory and Field Station in Ossining, NY, the 145 ha Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining and the 4 ha Clark Memorial Garden in Albertson, Long Island, NY. If that isn't enough to convince you that she is indeed a very busy lady, worth her salt, nothing can.

Her work in dye plants at the BBG led to the collaboration in Dye plants and dyeing, a handbook of the Plants and Gardens series published by BBG and their documentary film Nature's Colors - the craft of dyeing with plants.

She lives two lives, say her colleagues - her professional home and life in New York and the world, and her other link, that with her family in South Africa, and the home country she still loves and admires so much. But, as Betty says, ‘‘Let's not talk about me anymore. The garden is far more fascinating and beautiful.’’