|Benefit Calendar Lets You See the Forest and the Trees|
|Ever hear of the Waugh Arboretum?
That's part of its problem.
We're not talking about an obscure little corner of the state. The Waugh Arboretum boasts more
than 1,500 species growing on 1,400 acres of prime real estate in the Pioneer Valley and is used by
30,000 people every day. That's because the arboretum comprises the entire campus of the
University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
A 2002 calendar featuring paintings, collages, and photos of favorite campus trees contributed by
Pioneer Valley artists, many of them UMass graduates, is part of a new communitywide effort to
raise awareness of the arboretum and funds to maintain the trees.
''We had a wonderful gallery show in the Student Union Art Gallery and a reception and many
people,'' said R. Marc Fournier, assistant director for grounds management, who came up with the
calendar idea. Forty-five artists competed to participate.
The fortunes of the arboretum have flowed and ebbed over the past 138 years. If the Victorian era
was high tide for the campus's many rare trees, the second half of the 20th century was low tide,
when the very existence of the arboretum seems to have been forgotten, and many trees were killed
by construction and lack of care.
The trees were more treasured in the early years of the campus, which was founded in 1863 as the
Massachusetts Agricultural College. When its first sitting president, William Smith Clark, helped
start the Sapporo Agricultural College in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1876, he and his colleagues sent
back many unusual specimens, such as the first Japanese elm planted in this country. Graduating
classes also often planted trees, and one class planted a tree for every graduating member.
In 1944, the collection was named the Waugh Arboretum in honor of landscape architecture
professor Frank Waugh. It slipped from the university's consciousness in the 1960s, however,
when a great building boom on campus saw trees as obstacles rather than assets.
In 1986, a campus maintenance crew cut down the oldest cork tree in the United States without
any knowledge that they were killing a historic tree. It was closely related to the Arnold
Arboretum's ''Corky,'' which has been called the best-loved tree in New England and whose
demise was widely mourned after the weight of an entire school class posing for a photo on its
horizontal branch snapped its roots several years ago. The 60-foot-tall UMass sakhalin cork tree
was equally horizontal in habit, with a trunk 3.5 feet in diameter.
Jack Ahern was one person profoundly affected by the killing of the cork tree, which he calls a
tragedy. It occurred only two weeks after he started his job heading the university's Department of
Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning.
''It was brought back from Japan by William S. Clark and cut down under the guise of safety
removal, though it's not clear that it couldn't have been saved,'' he recalled recently. ''I found out
after the deed was done. We didn't have a procedure for the maintenance department conferring
with people who knew about the trees, so those things fell through the cracks. But the controversy
did lead to some good things, such as labeling the trees again. We tried to create something good
out of something bad that had happened.''
The good things eventually included Ahern's appointment three years ago as director of the Waugh
Arboretum, an unpaid position that had been vacant for decades. He formed the Arboretum
Advisory Board with a group from three university departments - landscape architecture and
regional planning, grounds management, and forestry - who were concerned about the declining
collection and wanted to raise awareness and funds. They helped initiate an annual Arbor Day
celebration the last Friday of every April that includes tree plantings, campus tree tours, pruning
demonstrations, and an exhibit of student outdoor sculpture.
Kat Eldred and her staff in the communications and marketing department on campus worked with
the artists to create the calendar. ''We should always be this entrepreneurial,'' she said, ''but in these
economic times, it even becomes more imperative. It's unlikely that the arboretum would be a
funding priority... but we would stand to lose so much if we didn't maintain it.''
The calendar cover features a painting by Rachel Folsom of Amherst of a 127-year-old European
beech in the university's Durfee Garden, its gray trunk etched with students' initials. ''I was attracted
to those muscular branches,'' Folsom said. ''I hated the idea of the graffiti, but I was fascinated by
them at the same time, the generations of college students proclaiming their love.''
Artist Louise Minks of Leverett chose to paint a Japanese lilac planted by Clark in the 1870s. ''I've
always been interested in William Clark, who is still remembered very fondly by the Japanese
students, who visit his grave,'' she said.
Amherst artist Marcia Howard made a paper collage of a 100-year-old oak against the skyline of
the university library, the chapel, and Memorial Hall. She has been enjoying the arboretum for 26
years and said the campus looks ''remarkably nicer'' now. ''There's been a lot of work to revitalize
Fournier is excited about the progress being made. Early last fall, the grounds management
department successfully moved a 70-foot pin oak from the site of the new School of Management
addition and planted it in a safe location. ''In the past, it would have just been cut down,'' said
Fournier. ''This is a new spirit.''
A key part of that revitalization will be the selection of new trees. During the nadir of the previous
three decades, the arboretum lost diversity. Many rare trees dying of old age were thoughtlessly
replaced with commonplace landscape trees.
''We have way too many crabapples on campus now,'' said Ahern. ''We're trying to be more
systematic about replacement. We need some more Asian conifers, such as Chinese fir and Russian
arborvitae. We need to start to renew our collection of Japanese maples. The ones planted by
William Clark are dying, sadly, and need to be replaced.''
''This past spring, the university marked the 125th anniversary of Clark's arrival in Hokkaido with a
trio of Japanese cherry trees, a perfect example of how the arboretum helps to make the campus
more than a collection of trees and buildings,'' said Ahern, who wrote the 1999 ''A Guide to the
Landscape Architecture of Boston'' (Hubbard Educational Trust). ''It's a place where horticulture,
history, and learning converge, hopefully transforming young lives.''
To purchase a copy of the 2002 calendar, ''Rise Up and Take Us With You: Fifteen Pioneer Valley
Artists Celebrate University Heritage Trees,'' call 413-545-2619 to pay by credit card, or send
checks or money order for $16.45 (payable to the University of Massachusetts Amherst) to
Valerie Knightly, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Grounds Management Department,
Physical Plant Building, 360 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9248. Proceeds will
benefit the UMass Waugh Arboretum.
| The Boston Globe 13 December 2001|