Arboretum much more than a collection of trees
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Apr 28, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Arboretum much more than a collection of trees

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert

The past continues to take root on the grounds of the historic Fryfogel Tavern east of Shakespeare, where over the last three years a small group of dedicated, environmentally conscious individuals has begun the lengthy task of re-establishing the plant communities that once populated the five acre property.

The collection of trees, shrubs, and plants being cultivated on the site is meant to reflect what Sebastian Fryfogel would have discovered as Perth County's first settler in the early 1800s. Trees have been felled, old forest has been culled to allow for new growth to emerge, and new trees of varying species have been planted, some in ceremonial fashion. Other notable developments on the site include installation of a drilled well, picnic tables for the tavern green west of the building, fencing, bird houses and a beehive, signage, walking paths, as well as commemorative flags honouring the site's Canadian and Swiss heritage. In 2012 the arboretum was added to an international listing maintained by the famed Morton Arboretum in Chicago.

"I think we have made a significant step forward with the property," chair of the Fryfogel Arboretum committee, Reg White, commented at the group's inaugural annual general meeting Friday evening.

Held at Sprucedale Public school in Shakespeare, the AGM gave supporters of the project a chance to share their achievements and progress to date as well as their plans for the year ahead, including installation of a pollinator demonstration garden along the road embankments adjacent to the property. Pending funding the group also hopes to construct a bridge to cross Horner Creek, add additional educational signage, and purchase and develop an additional five acres with a network of trails and plant communities.

"We've got big ideas ahead, and it's going to take time," professional landscaper Jane Eligh-Feryn said, adding the goal of the arboretum is to restore the land to a healthy ecosystem that provides habitat for birds, pollinators, and small mammals.

Habitat loss is a critical issue and the arboretum provides an opportunity for public education about the value and use of native plants, she said, noting the pollinator garden on the agenda for 2014 is meant to highlight the need to support pollinators and the type of native plants that can be used in public and private settings.

The need for greater understanding about the value of preserving and protecting our natural habitat was driven home by the night's guest speaker, Toronto Royal Botanical Garden executive director, Harry Jongerden, whose resume also includes past head of horticulture at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton and former head gardener of the Stratford Festival.

Jongerdon said biodiversity and habitats are threatened by climate change, human activity, and invasive species (the arboretum is currently dealing with garlic mustard and rampant black walnut trees) that, if left unchanged, puts as many as 40 per cent of the world's plant species at risk of extinction.

Showing slides with images from some of North America's most renowned public gardens, including the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver and Evening Island in Chicago's Botanical Garden, Jongerden suggested appreciation for their beauty is the first step towards fostering an environment of conservation.

Public gardens and arboretums – also make a community rich, he added, noting not only do they make people happy and healthy, but they provide serious economic benefit. He cited both Stratford, with its renowned parks system, and the Niagara region as examples of where public gardens support tourism.

"People come to visit things they can't find at home," he added.

Guests at the AGM were also given a peak at some of the photographs taken of the arboretum over the last year by John Jones, a professional photographer and faculty member at the Ontario College of Art & Design. They will be made available online in the future and to the foundation to use in promotional material. The images provide a fresh perspective on the old property, bringing to the forefront some of the lesser-known corners of the arboretum and eye-catching features that, depending on the time of the season, might be covered by thick greenery or buried under snow.

"I'm less interested in documenting what you can go see with your eyes. I'd rather interpret the feel of the place," Jones said.

The Fryfogel arboretum is being developed on land owned by the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation. The group's chair, Eric Adams, thanked the members of the site development committee for their contributions and for the progress they've made with their many plantings. He said the arboretum is "an exciting environmental project" that supports the foundation's motto of "Caring for our Past."

"This arboretum is a one-of-a-kind in Perth County," he added, "and is becoming a destination for tourists visiting this region."

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