landis.jpgQ: Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? A. With lots of toil, amended soil and Volunteers Who Know! Esperance, NY -- From humble, rural northern Catskill's farm to global venue, the Landis Arboretum continues to attract the energy and devotion of industrious and generous volunteers who find common ground in its riveting beauty, unique setting, and special appeal to those who love nature and the land. By Schoharie Buzz The 548-acre expanse of the Landis Arboretum stretches lazily from the rolling hills of Schoharie County toward Montgomery County's Charleston State Forest.  It embraces cultivated gardens, noteworthy Collections, miles of trails, ponds, wetlands, and a vast night sky that is an astronomers dream.   Arboretum Board President Anne Donnelly smiles involuntarily when visitors approach her with compliments and questions on the Arboretum's rich abundance of trees, plants, and flowers, flowing lawns, and intimate, well-kept but rustic outdoor spaces. A common inquiry: how extensive is the staff here? "Most are surprised to learn that the Arboretum retains just two year-round employees and only two seasonal workers. We simply cannot afford more," she says. The lifeblood and real secret of the Arboretum is its seemingly inexhaustible but "enthusiastic network of graying volunteers. It has always been that way." The Arboretum's reputation as a gathering place at which to learn, relax, enjoy, and reenergize was established well before its first trees were planted. From its earliest days, the Oak Nose Farm homestead attracted plant lovers, naturists, gardeners, and well-heeled hangers-on. Itinerant artists, roving photographers, hikers, walkers, and outdoor enthusiast were drawn to the Esperance estate as much by the excitement and delight of a day in the country, or coveted dinner invitation with raconteur Lape as by the engaging  sociability of Lape the poet, writer, teacher, musician, and horticulturist. In its heyday - as now - the Arboretum was and is a place to be!  Now well into its second 50 years, the Landis Arboretum is one of the four more significant arboreta in New York State. The Planting Arboretum and Bayard Cutting Arboretum, both located on Long Island in a different hardiness zone, and the Cornell Plantations in Ithaca, with an extensive scientific orientation, comprise the four, and complement the scenic, rural, and multifaceted operation of Landis. In his 1980 recollection, "A Farm and Village Boyhood," (Syracuse University Press) Arboretum founder Fred Lape, who died in Mexico in 1985, reflects on his earliest memories of the property. "[I]ts views were...dramatic, and it was for this more than the fertility of soil that my father bought it..." he wrote.  "It was from the high meadows that one saw the real beauty of the farm. One section sloped to the north, looking down through the open V of the Schoharie and across the Mohawk River to the Adirondack Mountains.... "The land itself was varied. The flats were drained swamps of deep black soil, fertile but difficult to work, particularly in wet seasons. The hillsides were rocky and lean.  The earth ribs of sandstone and shale stuck out on the pasture slopes.  Some layers of the sandstone were hard and easily quarried.  Two small quarries on the farm furnished the foundation and cellar walls of the house.  Scattered indiscriminately over the flats and slopes lay either buried or on the surface the quartz and granite boulders that the glaciers had left on their withdrawal.... This was Oak Nose Farm..." then - and now! Central to the New York State Wine and Spa Trails and in close proximity to historic Sharon Springs along historic and scenically designated Route 20, the Arboretum is a natural stop for those traveling to the high-volume tourist attractions between the Albany, Cooperstown, and Finger Lakes Regions.  Despite ease of access, Landis has been spared over-development and gentrification, in part, because of its limited endowment. Its rugged beauty, however, continues to attract and entice those who identify with nature in the fullness of her majesty and desire to learn and grow closer to her mysteries.  Landis volunteer and now-curator of its Native Plant Collection, Ed Miller has fallen under that spell. Going Native Along the Trail Although formally trained to be an engineer, Ed Miller has always had an interest in nature. Following retirement nearly 25 years ago, he studied plants seriously with Ruth Schottman, Jerry Jenkins, Nan and Sue Williams, and others. He has twice served as the chair of the Northeastern section of the Botanical Society of America. Today, Mr. Miller ranks at the top of the Volunteers Who Know list at the Arboretum:  he serves as curator to the Native Plant Collection, which he started at the Landis Arboretum in 1999. Along the half-mile Willow Plant trail at Landis, Miller almost single-handedly has created a collection of woody plants, all native to New York State. The plants are grouped by families so that related species can be easily compared. Some plants with specialized needs are planted in their favorite environment. College botany classes from across the state travel to Landis to walk the native plants collection, appreciating the enormous diversity and density of plants one could see in the wilds from across the state." In addition, he has established a bog garden with most of plants of a northern peat bog. This garden includes both woody and herbaceous plants nestled in a bed of sphagnum moss floating on a raft. The natural areas of the Arboretum, in fact, provide a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and study native plants and ecosystems, open field evolution, effect of undesired invasive species, endangered plants, and forest communities of the region.  These areas are vital to the Arboretum as a study area for ecosystems of the Northeast.  The various stages of succession and various ecosystems that exist on the property are significant in that a wide range of environments can be studied or researched at one site.  Trails wind through mature and near mature forests and wildflower fields and in proximity to a widely diverse range of species that comprise the old growth forests. The dominant trees are white and red oaks, American beech, sugar maple, hemlock, yellow birch, and black birch. Many native plants are labeled along the woodland trail.  Miller is justifiably proud of his efforts - and those of like-minded friends and family who he has inspired by his passion and commitment to the collection. His four adult sons are among his most ardent fans and often are seen working to improve the accessibility to the collection at those odd hours when personal life and work demands permit. Landis Native Plants Collection curator Ed Miller invites GUIDE readers to see for themselves when he and Landis President, retired biologist Anne Donnelly offer a three-hour field trip to explore native plants and biodiversity at Landis.  They invite participants to bring a bag lunch, sensible shoes, and their field guides and join the walk-about that will naturally include native plants and how to key them out - as well as an open conversation about biodiversity, evolution, and how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens. The field trip is scheduled for Sunday, June 28, 10:30 AM - 1:30 PM. Landis members, $10, non-members $15. Trillium Project Under Way Not far from the Willow Plant Trail and the Ed Miller Native Plants Collection, Cindy King, another Landis volunteer in the know, is hard at work in the propagation room of the William T. Raymond Greenhouse at Landis.  A Master Forest Owner volunteer with Cornell, King lives in Minaville, NY. There, as a licensed nurseryman, she runs a business called Ewecastle, and raises native plants and daylilies. The worse for wear and lack of funds, the greenhouse plays an active role in plant propagation, training, and continuing education for gardeners at every level of proficiency and interest. The prop room remains productive through the commitment of volunteers such as King.  Her own focus is in spearheading the Arboretum's own Trillium Project. Trillium, I learn, are an elegant group of plants -- three-petaled wildflower in red, white or yellow (and thousands of variations) -- coveted by gardeners, nature lovers, conservationists. King notes that while theses flowers remain profuse in some areas they are on the protected plant list everywhere as encroaching development destroys their habitat.  Her research led her to the Mt. Cuba Center, a 650-acre non-profit horticultural institution in northern Delaware, and the largest collection of trillium in the world on a restored estate that belonged to the DuPonts.  As King explains it, in April 2008, she and Viktoria Serafin (owner of Glenbrook Farm, Fultonville, NY), attended the first-ever trillium symposium held at Mt Cuba Center and Winterthur in Delaware, which was co-sponsored by Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, the American Public Garden Association, and the New England Wild Flower Society.  The two-day conference featured Fred Case (world's leading authority on trilliums and author of Trillium); Bill Cullina, propagator at the New England Wildflower Society; Jeanne Frett, curator of the trillium collection at Mt Cuba; and other speakers. Through contacts there, she returned to the Arboretum with information, seeds and determination to propagate trillium at Landis.  Weeks later, on a walk along the Arboretum's Old Forest Trail Landis, she discovered three groups of blooming Fringed Polygala/Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) a member of the Milkwort Family.  "I was very excited about the polygalas.  They are quite rare.  I also found some red and white trillium in bloom. This bodes well for a trilllium project!" With the aid of other volunteers her enthusiasm has attracted, the Landis propagation team is offering something new at the Arboretum's signature Spring Plant Sale in May.  Heirloom vegetables, including several varieties of tomatoes, some peppers, and a few eggplants, will be available for the gardeners who would like to try something new and unusual in the vegetable garden or even tuck some interesting vegetables among the perennials. The all-volunteer propagation team will offer cuttings of many of the native shrubs found at the Arboretum, as well as a selection of woodland plants. Most woodland plants enjoy shade or dappled light, which makes them good candidates for a shade garden or a dark corner. King says that the team also will offer divisions of perennials from members' gardens "and some nice old garden standbys that we just can't resist raising." Readers may want to stop by the propagation team's tables located outside the greenhouse early for the best selection of these volunteer-inspired, Arboretum-raised plants. Enriching the Garden, One Volunteer at a Time Three times each week in the warmer months, Erin Breglia - she married the organization's Director of Horticulture and Operations under the Great Oak at Landis last year in what some recall as a fairy tale wedding - greets an enthusiastic contingent of volunteers from the Schoharie County ARC.  They come to work with her in the garden, to learn marketable skills for the future, to have some fun, and to share the carefree excitement of time spent in the open air and rolling hills of Landis. This unique and mutually beneficial partnership between the Capital Region's Arboretum and the ARC grew from seeds planted in the summer of 2006. Through it, area chapters of the New York State ARC get to experience the Arboretum as a dynamic classroom for learning gardening skills. In varying stages of formality, the program deeds garden plots at Landis to individual clients and give them "ownership" of their workspace, which they tend through the entire growing season. The ARC provides staff supervision and the Arboretum teaches plant-care and gardening skills. These techniques may prepare clients for potential job opportunities and in the process, supports the Arboretum's need for skilled and focused volunteers. Breglia admits she was unsure initially if the program would work: "On a personal level, I feared being inadequate in the face of too many questions from so many eager faces.  But that passed so quickly, it is hard to remember it." She says that commitment and enthusiasm were instantly apparent.  "Even when the weather was less than ideal, "the ARC clients were at the Arboretum, ready for another lesson - and to contribute to the maintenance of the gardens.  We had to expand learning opportunities to indoor projects in the greenhouse and propagating room to accommodate the appetite for wanting to help. It was, and continues to be, well, just awesome!" This season, says Breglia, ARC participants will help the Arboretum implement some evolving science inquiry at Landis, through efforts to amend the soil using biochar, a fine-grained charcoal rich in organic carbon and highly resistant to decomposition. She notes that the Arboretum and the ARC participants will have the added benefit of working through David Yarrow, journalist, teacher, Earth advocate, and co-founder of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. The enhanced nutrient holding capacity of biochar-amended soils means less fertilizer is needed, therefore reducing climate and environmental impact. Other benefits of biochar in soil include enhanced plant growth, suppressed methane emissions, raised pH, reduced aluminum toxicity, increased fungal hyphae, improved soil water handling properties, increased soil microbial respiration and biomass, and increased cat-ion exchange capacity.  Biochar will help to mitigate harmful gases in the atmosphere as well as add much-needed nutrients to crops in a natural non-chemical way. "David reminds us that we are still in the trial period of understanding the full benefits of biochar -- but no matter what, the benefits to our environment are great.  We're very optimistic," she says.  "And we're happy that our relationship with the ARC is about to enter its second full season with this groundbreaking work under way." Volunteer Here - and Everywhere Whatever the season, there is always a reason to visit the Landis Arboretum - in large measure because of the selfless generosity of its widely diverse volunteers. Volunteers, in fact, form the core teams of operational support on which many of the region's non-profit entities depend.  Giving, when it comes to volunteer efforts, is far from a one-way gesture. The Landis Arboretum invites readers of the GUIDE to experience the impact of volunteers on its legacy gardens and noteworthy Collections. They also suggest that each of us - especially in this time of stressful economic considerations -- find possible solace, camaraderie, and respite in its gardens and among like-minded individuals at area non-profits organizations that will benefit from personal generosity in all of its forms. May at Landis Life at  Landis includes celebrating its legacy gardens and noteworthy collections with creative and innovative classes and events. Details at http://www.landisarboretum,.org/ > Calendar of Events. May 9, Saturday, 10 - Noon at the Arboretum 1-3 PM at 1185 Creek Road in Esperance WILD LEARN AND WINSLOW OUTDOOR FAMILY ADVENTURE DUO Live presentation that includes local wildlife - including birds, reptiles, and amphibians - followed by an interactive guided nature walk at Landis.  Then experience the excitement of artistic equestrian JD Winslow in a nearby workshop on the care and training of his unique riding horses, followed by a special acrobatic riding presentation.  One fee includes admission to both presentations.  May 9, Saturday, 10 AM - 1 PM EYE ON:  NATURE THROUGH THE CAMERA'S LENS The 548-acre Arboretum becomes a photographer's paradise in this three-part exploration of nature as seen though the camera's lens as award-wining Landis photographer-in-residence Bill Combs, Jr. and members of the Schoharie County Photographers Club.  May 9, Saturday, 11 AM - 3 PM PAINT-OUT The Mohawk Region Chapter of the New York Plein-Air Painters at Landis. Plein-air painting refers to artwork created outdoors on site.  Artists typically work in oils and create relatively small paintings that can be completed in a few hours.  Sign up? More information? Mary Beth Vought, 518-868-2807. May 16 and 17, Saturday and Sunday, 10 AM - 4 PM SPRING PLANT/USED BOOK/BAKE SALE Fundraiser and Artisans Way Out of the ordinary trees, shrubs, and perennials. Free admission, free parking. May 22/23, Friday/Saturday, 9:30 PM PUBLIC STAR PARTY Alan French and Albany Area Astronomers.  Free admission and parking. May 23, Saturday, 6 - 9 AM EARLY MORNING BIRD WALK For beginning to serious birder.  Explore the Arboretum to find resident and migrating birds. George Steele, Science Educator. Donation, $5/person. May 30, Saturday, 9:30 AM - 2:30 PM PROJECT WILD/AQUATIC WILD Among the most widely used conservation/environmental education programs. Fast-paced workshop for educators: integrate wildlife-focused activities of Project WILD and WILD Aquatic into lessons in the classroom, camp, after-school program, or nature center.  Details on Arboretum site or Wildlife Learning Company, 607-293-6043. _____________ Schoharie Buzz is the pen name of Landis Executive Director Thom O'Connor, who also produces SchoharieBuzz, a weekly e-letter on events in and around Schoharie County. CONTACT: Thom O'Connor L A N D I S,  The Capital Region's Arboretum PO Box 186,  174 Lape Rd., Esperance, NY 12066; 518.875.6935