How do you have an arboretum without any trees? It was a question insensitively posed to Kathy Salisbury, Director of the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University, by a visitor to campus not long after an EF2 tornado felled hundreds of trees on campus on September 1, 2021.
Salisbury, her dedicated staff, Temple Facilities Management, students, and an army of arborists and volunteers have been answering that question since September 2, 2021 — replant, regrow, recover.
Coupled with a vital and diverse collection of trees, plants and gardens — with hundreds of new trees planted — the Ambler Arboretum remains as it has always been, an essential location for unique hands-on learning and a place for rejuvenation and healing in nature.
As the Ambler Arboretum and Ambler Campus head toward two years since the tornado changed everything, one word has been front and center for Salisbury and her team —Stephanie Bross, Gardens Manager; Michael Hitchings, Lead Horticulturist; Anne Brennan, Plant Records Curator; Samatha McGuriman, Arboretum STEM Programs Specialist; and Drew Schoen, Horticulture Technician — Progress.
Progress is also the theme of the 2023 Ambler in Bloom the Ambler Arboretum’s annual garden party fundraiser, which will be held in the campus gardens on Saturday, September 23, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Register online at https://alumni.temple.edu/bloom.
Ambler in Bloom will feature a progressive-style brunch that will take visitors to various locations on campus to enjoy different cuisine options, live music, and silent and live auctions.
According to Salisbury, this year’s event invites visitors to “see how we’re progressing post-tornado by visiting five garden spaces and learning about our vision and plans for their future.”
“Our visitors’ journey at Ambler in Bloom will take them through the future locations of the reimagined Woodland Garden and Sustainable Wetland Gardens. They’ll also see the new areas for the planned Honor Grove, Campus Heritage Garden and the Climate Resilient Landscape,” she said. “We have engaged Donald Pell Gardens to help develop conceptual designs for five new and reimagined spaces throughout the Arboretum. While they are helping us come up with ideas for designs and programming for these spaces they are also helping us understand movement through the Arboretum and connecting the gardens in ways that make sense for our variety of users.”
Planting With Intention
The planting of new trees, shrubs, vines and more on campus hasn’t been just about replacing what was lost in the tornado, but planning for the future, a future where climate change will certainly be an important factor to consider.
“Since the tornado, we have planted more than 300 trees on campus. These trees have been selected for a variety of reasons, including replacing species lost on campus, meeting the needs of faculty, diversifying the collection and responding to predicted climate change. This is just the first small step of a larger three-year process,” said Salisbury. “We wanted to be very intentional in our tree selection. We want the Arboretum to show what a climate-resilient landscape looks like.”
Help supporting the ongoing progress in the gardens has come in the form of tree donations from a wide variety of sources, including, Morris Arboretum, Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden, Action Tank, LLC, Villanova University, Harmony Hill Nursery, Scott Arboretum, Nemours Foundation, Jeffrey Lapp, North Creek Nursery, Rick Ray, and David Brothers Nursery.
“Our botanical collections and horticultural displays are going to be more diverse and robust than before. For example, we have installed a unique cultivar that is just one of 40 known. We have installed a wide diversity of maples in collaboration with the Global Conservation Consortium of Maples,” said Salisbury. “This consortium works to create comprehensive strategies to prevent species extinctions. In our case, we are providing an additional location for species that exist in only one location now, so that if something should happen to the collection at another garden, we will still have a sample of those trees. We know firsthand what can happen to a collection in an instant.”
In addition to new plants, trees and connecting gardens, which are currently in development, visitors to the Arboretum today will see new signage throughout the gardens, restored and new spaces, such as the Vine Display Gardens created by students on the Landscape Architecture Junior Design-Build Studio, the rebuilt Bright Pavilions and a new Green Roof Garden display created by students from Upper Perkiomen High School. New sculpture created by Master of Architecture students for wildlife also dot the Arboretum and campus.
“A lot of planning went into developing the Arboretum's new signage. Phase one is complete with more than 20 garden labels and six new welcome signs going in around the gardens,” said Salisbury. “We have been working on this project for years and it is really exciting to see them go in. Phase two will be the interpretive signage that will help us tell our story and provide information for people to take home to their own gardens.”
The Collins Nursery, established by renowned landscape architect and nurseryman, John F. Collins, is also now part of the Ambler Arboretum. In 1988, Collins came to Temple Ambler to help steer the fledgling four-year Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs (now offered by the Tyler School of Art and Architecture) as a professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. More information about how the Collins Nursery will be an essential part of the future of the Arboretum is coming soon.
Providing additional benefits to Ambler Arboretum members, the Ambler Arboretum became a member of the American Horticultural Society's Reciprocal Admissions Program in 2023. The program promotes horticulture across North America, encouraging people to visit gardens and other horticultural institutions.
New and Returning Faces in the Ambler Arboretum
Under Salisbury’s diligent direction are four individuals dedicated to maintaining the current gardens in superb condition while working collaboratively to plan for future additions, renovations, refurbishments and reimaginings coupled with programs designed to highlight the unique nature and history of the Ambler Arboretum’s garden spaces.
Gardens Manager Stephanie Bross and Lead Horticulturist Michael Hitchings are living embodiments of not having to go far to get far. Both May 2022 graduates from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture’s Horticulture program, Hitchings and Bross were student gardeners on campus for several seasons before officially becoming part of the Arboretum team.
“I think one of the great things that Steph and Mike bring to their roles is that they used this place as students, and they knew this place and these gardens as they were before the tornado. They have a deep understanding of the value of the gardens and how we use this space — that it is a teaching tool,” Salisbury said. “They value that and they support that through the work that they do. Bringing people on board that have that understanding is very helpful in making decisions and managing the gardens.”
Hitchings and Bross, both non-traditional students, “bring a lot of unique work experience in the field,” Salisbury said.
“Mike worked for a landscaping company so he brings that practical management experience with him. Steph worked for a company that created merchandising and displays for garden centers, so she brought that plant knowledge with her,” she said. “Generally, they are responsible for maintaining the gardens, planting the new plants that come in, working with me to determine what needs to be done, working with volunteers and managing the student gardener team. Their primary goal is to make sure that the gardens are looking their best, that they are safe, they are useful and they are relevant for the various users of our Arboretum spaces.”
Plants Records Curator Anne Brennan is no stranger to the Ambler Arboretum. She was Gardens Manager from 2017 to 2019. Prior to that, she was Horticulture Supervisor, a similar role to Gardens Manager, that was overseen by the Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs.
“As curator, Anne is responsible for the record-keeping of our plant collection — the accessioning, the labeling, keeping track of and inventorying the plants and confirming identification. An accession collection is what sets us apart from, say, a park or home garden,” said Salisbury. “The fact that we keep track of our plants, that we know their history, that we know where they came from, that we keep records on them, is vitally important to the future of the Arboretum.”
Salisbury said the information is extremely useful in several ways.
“It’s similar to the way that that a museum manages its collections. We use this information to teach about them. We also use this information to support teaching and to support research,” she said. “We make our lists available to various organizations who in turn make those lists available to wider organizations — our plant list is available all around the globe to universities and other botanical gardens. If they would like to do research on plant material, we can support that.”
The Arboretum, Salisbury said, “wants to be a part of the network of botanical gardens that support conservation.”
“Keeping track of our collection tells us what types of plants we have, what diversity we have and the significance of our collection,” she said. “We know if we have endangered species or threatened species. We know if we’re lacking species and if we should bring them in. This is an essential position for a public garden and a college botanical garden.”
According to Salsibury, STEM Programs Specialist Samatha McGuriman is stepping into a entirely new position within the Arboretum.
“The STEM Programs Special position is designed to take advantage of the wonderfully diverse educational resources we have in the Ambler Arboretum. The STEM Programs Specialist’s role will be focused on the design and delivery of programs focused on environmental science, horticulture, biology and ecology for a wide audience, from elementary school children to lifelong learners,” she said. “Samantha will be coordinating guest speakers and subject matter experts and evaluating educational programming and services that are aligned with the position's programmatic focus. We’re excited to see her build some of these new programs from the ground up.”
The newest member of the Ambler Arboretum team is Horticulture Technician Drew Schoen.
“Drew is responsible for the care of all of the new trees. Drew is an alumnus of Tyler’s Horticulture program; he’s also a former student of mine,” Salisbury said. “I am thrilled to have him on board — he is passionate and enthusiastic, a hard worker and a curious learner. Most importantly he is knowledgeable and understands the value and significance of this place. Like Mike and Steph, he knew the Arboretum before it was damaged by the tornado and understands the importance of reestablishing this outdoor classroom for future students.”
The core project the entire Arboretum team continues to focus on, Salisbury said, “is the replanting of the Arboretum.”
“That requires communication, collaboration and everyone working together toward that common goal,” she said. “We’re all working toward redevelopment of this space over the next few years.”
Volunteers Form the Backbone of the Arboretum
In December 2022, nearly 3,000 bulbs went into the ground throughout the gardens of the Ambler Arboretum. The gardens have certainly been reaping the rich rewards of that planting throughout the spring and summer of 2023. A project of that nature would have never been possible without a dedicated group of volunteers.
In 2022 alone, nearly 200 people volunteered in the Ambler Arboretum, donating “more than 1,100 hours of brains, brawn, time and talent,” Salisbury said.
“Volunteers have weeded, pruned, watered, planted, transplanted, taken photographs, written social media posts, given tours, staffed information tables, advised, secured donations and so much more. We couldn’t keep the gardens looking as good as they do without the help of volunteers,” she said. “Our volunteers range from Temple students to residents in the community to students from other colleges. We have various collaborations. We work with Weavers Way as a community partner, for example, and Gwynedd Mercy University partners with us to send their students to the Arboretum to volunteer each spring.”
Among the community volunteers, Salisbury said, some may come for a single event or planting, “but we have dozens of volunteers who come back on a regular basis,” she said. “They compliment and expand what we can do in the gardens. If it weren’t for the volunteers, there are many tasks that we would not be able to accomplish.”
Individuals interested in becoming an Ambler Arboretum volunteer are asked to fill out the online volunteer form. There are ample opportunities to get involved. Learn more about volunteering. Find all the ways to help by visiting the Ambler Arboretum’s “How You Can Help” webpage.
Learn more about the Ambler Arboretum at https://arboretum.temple.edu.