The vegetation you see when visiting the Arboretum wasn’t planted by garden fairies.
A mere 13 employees, as well as volunteers and interns, work around the clock to make it a place full of sparse vegetation and flowery plots.
Shari Edelson, director of horticulture and curator at the Arboretum, said the work that goes into making the gardens places of tranquility starts far in advance of the warmer months.
“For example, the tulip displays people will enjoy this May were actually designed last June,” Edelson said via email. “All the plants for our summer displays are grown in advance, too.”
Currently, Penn State’s production greenhouse is filled with tens of thousands of plants that will be distributed to the Arboretum and other garden areas around campus this April, May and June.
Each year, there are different factors that play into how employees create the Arboretum’s schedule.
“We love plants, and we’re always looking for opportunities to design new and different garden displays,” Edelson said. “We’ll try to incorporate plants that visitors haven’t seen before, or we’ll try out some unexpected plant combinations.”
Another factor in creating the schedule is the garden construction plans, which can alter other plans. For instance, later this year builders will construct a new pollinator and bird habitat gardens, both of which fall in the same area as a current garden.
One of the most challenging aspects of preparing the Arboretum for its spring debut is taking care of the gardens during winter, which, according to Edelson, surprises many people.
“The winter months are when we do the vast majority of our tree and shrub pruning, and sometimes it can be a challenge to get all of that done before the spring comes and we have to turn our attention to other tasks,” Edelson said. “The same is true of all the other preparation we do, from volunteer trainings through curriculum planning and tour bookings. We usually start feeling like we’re scrambling sometime in February.”
Aside from the flowers and other vegetation, the events and educational programs the Arboretum puts together are also planned far before they occur.
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Kathleen Reeder, marketing coordinator for the Arboretum, said children’s garden activities, tours, volunteer orientations and work sessions are all mapped out by several staff members.
“During spring semester, student groups often perform community service by participating in development of the Gerhold Wildflower Trail in Hartley Wood in the Arboretum,” Reeder said via email. “This spring’s work sessions begin on Saturday, March 13, and continue through April 27.”
Reeder said there are various internship opportunities at the Arboretum related to the children’s garden, horticulture, arboriculture and nursery production.
According to Reeder, in an average year the Arboretum sees more than 200 groups, or over 6,000 people, schedule tours in its H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens. Each summer, over 10,000 people visit the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden during the morning drop-in activities on weekdays.
Rental events can be scheduled each year beginning in May after the harsh weather from previous months have subsided.
“Weddings are the most popular reason for renting garden space in the spring and throughout the summer,” Reeder said. “As the coordinator of rental events, I schedule and monitor an average of 35 weddings each season and 13 private events such as conference receptions, staff retreats and celebrations of various types.”
After a long winter of frigid temperatures, Edelson said people are “desperate for spring.”
“It’s a great feeling to see people come out to the gardens to enjoy those first spring flowers and see nature waking up for another year,” Edelson said. “We love being one of the places people go to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.”
Reeder added to that sentiment in terms of the Arboretum’s aura.
“The best thing about the Arboretum is that it is being developed as a place of beauty in garden design where people can observe and learn about the natural world without a lot of the noise and stress of modern life,” Reeder said. “Another important fact is that the Arboretum, which is being built through the generosity of donors, represents a gift to people from people who care about preserving green space for future generations.”
Added Reeder: “I also want to mention that this generous spirit is evident in today’s students, not only in the sweat equity they earn by volunteering in the Arboretum, but also in their desire to contribute to the expansion of the gardens in their own way.”
Although Ke Zheng has never visited the Arboretum, she wants to go explore it at some point before she graduates.
“I think it would be a great place to relax or just have leisure time,” Zheng (freshman-economics) said. “It’d also be a good place to study other than the library or the [HUB-Robeson Center]. [From what I’ve heard,] it just seems like such a great place.”
The full schedule of events and activities is available on the Arboretum’s website.
“There’s really always something new to see here, both over the course of the seasons and from one year to the next,” Edelson said. “I frequently tell students that the Arboretum is their garden –– we’re open for free every day of the year, and we want everyone to come out and experience this place.”