One of the original founders of TTLT, Mary Kerr, was once quoted that a Land Trust was for ‘future generations’. It was this vision that inspired us to develop an arboretum at our property. Equally decisive in our decision was our growing recognition that many trees on our land and elsewhere were suffering from a variety of diseases. An arboretum would ensure a place for younger trees to find their role in the ever changing world in the Carolinian zone.
The idea of an arboretum was originally conceived during my tenure as President over six years ago. On a tour of environmental initiatives in Oxford County, I was introduced to an experiment in which a land owner had devoted an acreage where trees from the Carolinas were being transplanted in his property. This initiative by UTRCA and Oxford Futures, in its sixth year, is designed to ascertain if global warming is effecting change in the how trees grow throughout the Carolinian Zone.
I returned home from that visitation with a new mission for our property. Our 10 acres is evenly divided between woods and an open field. The two horses we had then had almost 5 acres to themselves which seemed a bit too generous...actually, feeding on that much grass was counterproductive to their health. Marg and I decided to fence off the 5 acres into two parcels: 3 acres for the horses and 2 acres for a new initiative: an arboretum highlighting Carolinian trees.
We knew immediately who to contact: the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. With great anticipation, we contacted Brenda Gallagher who became our ‘ go to’ person in the planning stages of this project and, later, in the planting stages. Brenda was keen to assist us with our new idea and quickly informed us about funding ( Clean Water Initiative) that helped home owners who wished to plant trees on their property especially native species. Luckily for us, a 2 acre parcel was the minimum to qualify for this funding.
Brenda visited our property several times to consult about how this project might happen. Looking back now, I can still picture Brenda and ourselves trying to visualize a rather ‘ vacant scrub’ parcel of land. It was clear from the beginning what this arboretum would not be: tree planting in a formal manner. We envisioned three separate entries to the arboretum each one leading, in a circuitous pathway, to different sections of the arboretum. Of course, these pathways added to my grass cutting responsibilities. In the end, after considerable discussion, we decided to space out the project into at least three years with the goal to plant trees in one third of the property each year. By ‘ chunking’ the project into reasonable and achievable outcomes, we were confident that we could make this initiative happen.
Each year has brought its own challenges from a lack of rainfall to an abundance of rain, to excessive heat to prolonged spring cold. The variability of the weather certainly hinders the proper growth of trees and those in the Carolinian zone are very susceptible to our dramatically changing climate. We successfully partnered with the UTRCA under Brenda Gallagher’s leadership and her always dependable students who coached us on what strategies might be undertaken to promote healthy trees in response to uncertain growing conditions.
We are now more acute of impending problems such as oak rot, pine beetles and invasive species. Our desire to learn more about the ‘ lives of trees’ has led us to research which trees will flourish in what environment and what can be accomplished by careful monitoring and yearly underbrushing. The trees have been planted strategically to foster not only a healthy landscape but one that also enhances their shape, texture and colour. Some of the trees now in the arboretum include, among others, are: Sugar Maple, Tamarack, Bir Oak, Red Oak, Sycamore, White Pine, Tulip, Red Bud, Cucumber, Serviceberry, Black Gum, Paw Paw and Sassafras.
The Arboretum design is an organic process that developed out of many influences and a desire to get the trees established. As the collection grew, it became apparent plant identification and a reference system was essential both in the field and as an annotated master plan.
In the winter of 2021-22, we commissioned Landscape Architect Bryan Jones to create an illustrative, annotated Arboretum master plan that documents the Latin and common names for every woody specimen in the project.
Based in Toronto, Bryan is an advocate for establishing Carolinian plant communities in his profession and supports local community efforts. His family farm is located 3 km from the arboretum and for the past 30 years he has grown and propagated Carolinian species that are naturalizing throughout the property.
We are extremely pleased with the results of our efforts and our visions for this small piece of land on our property. Once a neglected field, this arboretum is now full of flourishing ( and fledging) Carolinian trees. We hope that our initiative will encourage other land owners to undertake a similar plan that not only promotes the well being of our Carolinian culture but also leaves a legacy of trees for generations to follow.
Photos by Jim Rule