The Chautauqua Arboretum is looking a little different these days.
In the fall of 2015, as part of an Institution-wide tree maintenance project, 40 trees in the Arboretum were taken down. In their place, Supervisor of Gardens and Landscapes Betsy Burgeson and her crew have planted a diverse selection of shrubs and perennials — increasing the number of plant species in the space from about 20 to more than 120.
“There are so many people now who come out here to see this,” Burgeson said. “They say, ‘We didn’t know this existed.’ Well, it didn’t, in this sense, until just a few years ago.”
Thanks to an effort by members of the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, the park was registered as an accredited arboretum this past winter with ArbNet, a program out of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.
“For us, it recognized the revitalization of the space of what could be possible with Betsy’s imagination and the hard work of her crew,” said BTG President Angela James. “It demonstrated the way we collaborated together in our own little world.”
Burgeson uses the Arboretum as a testing ground to see how certain plants do in this environment, and whether they prefer sunny or shady environments. For example, she noticed that the laurels she and her crew planted under a tall tree are not growing very well in the shade. She also watches to see what kinds of diseases she should be looking out for elsewhere on the grounds.
“It’s a central, local spot that we put a lot of the same flowers and plants that we use throughout the grounds so we can watch them instead of having to go from one garden to another,” Burgeson said.
The 2015 clearing of old trees opened up the opportunity for Burgeson to increase the diversity of species in the space. A yew hedge used to run around the edge of most of the Arboretum. Now, there are 21 varieties of shrubs in the Arboretum, Burgeson said. A more diverse selection of plants supports a more diverse array of animals.
“It opened the doors to pollinators and bird species,” Burgeson said. “You never would have the cedar waxwings in before, but now they come and eat all the berries like crazy.”
With the Arboretum’s updates came the opportunity to register the park this past winter with the Morton Register of Arboreta, an online database — available for viewing at arbnet.org — of arboreta around the world.
“It helps us get into more of a global arena in a sense because it is online,” Burgeson said. “It helps put Chautauqua on the map.”
The Chautauqua Arboretum is classified as a Level I arboretum, meaning it has between 25 and 100 species of trees, an arboretum plan, a governing group and signage explaining the names of each of the plants.
Dennis McNair, a BTG member and retired biology professor who taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, for 33 years, started the Morton Register application process last summer.
He lives right across the road from the Arboretum, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of its dedication last summer. He wanted the space to be accredited in order to establish standards for the Arboretum — standards that can help guide maintenance of the Arboretum for the next 100 years and beyond.
“ArbNet has criteria that we might not set for ourselves that we have to meet and maintain as long as we are registered,” he said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here. I’m 74 years old. I won’t live forever, but this registration will keep going as part of the Institution’s responsibility.”
The BTG acquired the Arboretum when it was gifted to the club by Henrietta Ord Jones in 1915 — though the Arboretum wasn’t officially dedicated until Aug. 7, 1917. The trees planted in the park were brought by Chautauquans from all over the country. In 1929, a sugar maple was planted from a seed gathered from a tree outside of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home in honor of her visit to Chautauqua.
Now, the Arboretum continues to be a crucial part of BTG’s mission to educate Chautauquans about nature. Several of BTG’s guided nature walks throughout the summer feature the park, and it was on display as part of BTG’s House and Garden Tour last year.
“While we’re accomplishing arbnet.org’s criteria, we’re also accomplishing the criteria stated in our mission,” James said.
The 0.7 acre Arboretum is a triangular plot of land south of the South End Ravine, bound by Whittier, Longfellow and Wythe Avenues. Located off the beaten path, the Arboretum provides a quiet place away from the bustle of Bestor Plaza to pause and reflect.