Fluffing and puffing the garden


That's a fun way to describe the never-ending process of updating and refreshing the gardens at Morris Arboretum. It came from Gary Koller, Morris' plant curator from 1973 to 1976, who joined fellow curators Paul Meyer (1976-1991 and since then, director), Rick Lewandowski (1991-1998)and Anthony Aiello (1998 to present), for a panel discussion on Friday afternoon about the arboretum, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

Morris, which has sponsored more than 20 plant-collecting expeditions since the 1970s, now has 12,248 labelled plants spanning 2,500 different types. Listening to these distinguished panelists, it was humbling to realize that they faced obstacles that would surprise visitors to this well-run place today. For example, Paul described the "deferred curatorial maintenance" as "just astounding." His issue became "how to get things done without resources. We had a very small staff, very little money" - but a lot of enthusiasm brought in by seasonal interns, a program he started after a longterm gardener retired.

Tony described his arrival at a greenhouse that was bursting with plants collected during seven trips to China in six years - 2,400 plants, everything labelled "highest priority." (Morris has 500 now.) "That was the most overwhelming part of the job," he said.

Record-keeping was another challenge. There was no GPS to locate plants on the grounds, no digital records of what was where. Everything was kept on note cards. "It was fun but it was very daunting," he said.

All four spoke of how far Morris has come and how happy they are or were to be part of the process. It was wonderful to listen to people who feel that way. As if anyone out there needs reminding, not every worker bee is so lucky.

To celebrate, I give you this patch of autumn crocus, or Colchicum autumnale, which I found in the arboretum parking lot! Even the parking lot is beautiful now.