Arboretum in Lexington offers springtime retreat

April 18, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

When asked what type of tree is blooming in the parking lot at Lexington's arboretum, Jim Lempe relates in a discouraging tone that it is a Bradford pear.

His main reason for regarding this popular springtime bloomer with disdain is that it is not a native tree and Lempe's focus as curator of native plants at the arboretum off Alumni Drive has been setting up "A Walk Across Kentucky." This 2-mile loop showcases the seven geophysical regions of Kentucky.

"It helps people experience the different regions of Kentucky," Lempe says. "If they don't know about it, they don't love it, and if they don't love it, they can't take care of it properly."

The 100 acres in the center of town, which is owned by the University of Kentucky and Lexington-Fayette County Urban County Government, also features a rose garden that recently was moved and expanded to more than 1,200 varieties, a water pond and several sculptures.


The arboretum, which began in 1991, is an oasis bordered by a water tower, a hospital, the university and other trappings of city life.

Visitors from 14 countries, 41 states

Marcia Farris, director, says many people have discovered the peace the arboretum offers. Farris, who initially started working at the arboretum as one of its many volunteers, says last year's visitors were from 14 countries and 41 states.

"We were surprised. We had no idea they were so diverse," she says.

Farris says an interest in gardening led her to do volunteer work at the arboretum.

"I think it was too good an opportunity to have 100 acres in the middle of town that could be a living library for the town," she says.

The arboretum counts on many people to keep its plantings healthy. In the Bluegrass woodland, which showcases 18 species of native trees, about 300 volunteers have worked on removing invasive plants, such as winter creeper and honeysuckle. Native seeds were collected to be used in planting.

Farris says adopt-a-plots are available for groups, individuals or families to commit to maintaining a section. These people keep the arboretum green, she says.

"Our staff is very limited and we rely heavily on volunteers," she says.

The arboretum also has received financial support for many people. One of its greatest benefactors was Dorotha Smith Oatts, for whom the visitor center is named. Her $200,000 challenge grant was met in four months. It was dedicated in the fall of 2002.

The arboretum schedules events throughout the year to attract visitors. "Glories of the Garden," a spring art show, attracted work from 110 artists.

"We sold quite a number of pieces, so it was exciting for the artists as well," Farris says.

Arbor Day will be a highlight

Of course, Arbor Day will be a highlight on the arboretum's calendar. Several activities are planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Children's author and Centre College graduate George Ella Lyon will reading "Counting on The Woods" and "Who Came Down That Road." Her reading follows a a proclamation read by Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac. At noon, Richard McCourt, curator of the largest natural history legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition, will speak. He is author of several articles about the preservation of these plants. The Dry Stone Conservancy, which already has laid some stone walls in the arboretum, will construct a new fence in the rose garden. Free tree seedlings will be available.

With a job that surrounds her with blooming plants and an office that offers a view of the rose gardens and bird feeders, Farris says her job is wonderful. Working with a limited budget involves a lot of unknowns and strong reliance on the support of volunteers. Despite the uncertainties inherent to her work, Farris says it's rewarding to keep the arboretum moving forward. She looks forward to seeing many transformations occur.

"A garden is never complete. It's always changing," she says.

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