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Updated 2:30 PM July 7, 2005
 

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Arboretum, Matthaei Botanical Gardens
better than medicine for nature lovers

Nichols Arboretum Director Bob Grese and wife, Susan, were walking in the Arb last year, when a stranger approached.

"He said, 'The U-M hospitals are where I go for my treatments, but here is where I get my real therapy,'" Grese recalls.
A visitor to the Nichols Arboretum last week takes advantage of the mild early summer weather to take a walk in the woods (above). A tree in the Arb appears to be seeking a drink of water from the nearby Huron River (below). (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

Grese (pronounced "gray-see"), Arboretum director since 1999, also became Matthaei Botanical Gardens (MBG) director last July 1 when the two facilities merged.

"I am struck by the restorative value of our settings for so many people. I've been struck by how many graduates of U-M or folks who grew up in Ann Arbor have shared their memories of these places with me," Grese says.

He wants to collect more of those memories, to honor next year's 100th anniversary of the establishment of the 123-acre Arboretum, nestled in the hills and hollows northeast of Central Campus. It is home to thousands of native Michigan and exotic plant species and to animals ranging from deer to fox to flying squirrels.

Until then, Grese and his staff plan some striking improvement and maintenance projects this summer at both the Arb and the 300-acre gardens.

"We're doing much planting as part of a project called Sam Graham's Trees at the Matthaei site," he says. "This is a collection of native trees of Michigan. As part of this project, we are introducing a number of Dutch elm disease-resistant saplings into an area of our floodplain that was once dominated by American elm.

"At the gardens we have also created a small demonstration student garden as part of a project called Cultivating Community," he says. "This is an outgrowth of a collaborative dialogue among students, faculty and staff this past year and involves collecting food scraps from dormitory cafeterias, composing those scraps with worms, and using the compost to grow vegetables and herbs." The herbs will be used at the Michigan Union and vegetables will be provided to the Food Gatherers.

The most striking project at the Arb involves repairing eroded shore areas along the Huron River. Some sections have been roped off to eliminate foot traffic before dogwood, willow and shrubs can be planted there this fall. The plants will help preserve the bank. Federal grant money is helping to pay for this demonstration project, headed by the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council and the University. "The city and county donate staff time and equipment," Grese adds.

At both the Arb and gardens, staff members also are replanting native species grown from seeds collected at the Arboretum and grown in the Matthaei greenhouses.

Blooming red and white peonies in neat rows greet Arboretum visitors entering from Washington Heights near the Medical Center. Take the wood-chip path past the peonies, and an oak opening appears on the right—a mostly green meadow of sedges, grasses and native wildflowers, including purple lupine.

In the shade of a gorge below, 8-foot Appalachian Rosebay Rhododendron bushes flourish in the Heathdale section of the Arboretum. Close to the Geddes entrance, new shrubs have been planted along the west side of the walkway into the Arb. This was made possible when overhead wires went underground.

"With a grant (of $16,000) from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust we are using GPS to map our collections at the Arboretum and will have an interactive map on our Web site come fall," Grese says. This is being performed by an intern from the School of Information. "We also will be creating 300-plus new labels for our trees. Some of the plant collections at Matthaei will also receive new labels under this grant."

The emerald ash borer beetle plague has forced Arb staff to take down 40-50 trees deemed hazards if they were to fall. "We recently had a small mill operation set up shop in the Arboretum to mill the logs into a series of planks we hope to use in barn restoration at the gardens or for constructing benches," Grese says. "We are replacing some trees as we can."

The need for a botanical gardens and arboretum was written into the University's 1817 charter. The 1906 Nichols Arboretum design by O.C. Simonds celebrates dramatic topography and long views framed by plantings.

MBG, located at 1800 N. Dixboro Road, was a gift by Fred Matthaei Sr. and Mildred Hague Matthaei. It includes a variety of outdoor display gardens, a 10,000-plus square foot conservatory, and miles of nature trails.

Admission to the outdoor gardens and grounds is free at both MBG and the
Arboretum.

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