An arboretum is sort of a tree museum, but it also can help a neighborhood look toward its future.
Frequently planted in a public garden, an arboretum is a place where someone has planted many different varieties of flowering magnolias, or rows of similar but slightly different oaks. An arboretum is a great place to study trees and consider them for use in your landscape.
Atlanta can lay claim to seven arboretums, with more coming. These arboretums aren’t sequestered away in a public garden. These are neighborhood arboretums, planted in yards, sidewalk planting strips, and parks where neighbors and visitors exercise and socialize.
The intown Atlanta neighborhoods of Cabbagetown, Inman Park, Midtown, Oakhurst, Reynoldstown, Sylvan Hills and Virginia-Highland have partnered with Trees Atlanta to create a neighborhood arboretum, a district where trees are labeled with granite markers and walks have been laid out highlighting the diversity of tree species in the neighborhood.
Sigrid Read was president of the Sylvan Hills Neighborhood Association when Trees Atlanta first came up with the idea of creating neighborhood arboretums. As a teacher, Read liked the educational aspect of having an arboretum, and as a longtime Trees Atlanta volunteer, she was already a proponent of planting trees. Sylvan Hills, a pedestrian-friendly southwest Atlanta neighborhood, signed up to be one of the first neighborhood arboretums.
“We basically went from house to house asking people if they wanted trees for their yard. We had to convince them the trees were free, and that we wouldn’t be planting huge trees under power lines,” Read said. A powerful argument for adding trees was pointing out that tree-lined streets in the neighborhood were 10 degrees cooler in the summer.
That was in 2006. “Now it’s something that helps bond the neighborhood,” Read added, and neighbors come out when there are new plantings or pruning to be done.
Today the Sylvan Hills arboretum has more than 40 trees on its list. From chinaberry to pecan, the trees vary from newly planted to those decades older than the houses they shade. Following the map and checking out all the trees on the walk takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
Over in northeast Atlanta, Reynoldstown began developing its arboretum about three years ago. Luke Pinkney remembers hearing Trees Atlanta program director Greg Levine talking about the idea at a neighborhood meeting. Pinkney and his wife, Christina Muzzi, signed up to help. With other volunteers, they walked the neighborhood identifying existing trees to be included in the arboretum and spaces where trees could be planted.
“There wasn’t as much landscaping here as in other neighborhoods, so there were many places we could add trees,” Pinkney recalled. The neighborhood decided on a “fruit and nut tree” theme, a grouping flexible enough to include red oaks and hackberries that provide food for the neighborhood wildlife.
The Reynoldstown tree walk map lists 30 trees on a grid that spans about 12 blocks of the neighborhood. There’s a Phase 2 in the works. “Beauty is an obvious benefit of having a neighborhood arboretum, but we believe it improves housing values as well,” Pinkney said.
He also values the social aspects of the arboretum, and the opportunity it presents to involve the neighborhood’s children. “They will be the caretakers of this urban canopy we’re building,” Pinkney said, and he’s even working on a tree-related trivia contest that just might lead to buried treasure.
Interested in learning more about trees as an asset in your neighborhood? Attend Trees Atlanta’s City in the Arboretum conference and learn now to create a neighborhood arboretum or get involved with an existing one. Registration is required. Some scholarships are available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Bringing the Arboretum Home." 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. May 22. Trees Atlanta Kendeda Center, 225 Chester Ave., Atlanta. $30 for Trees Atlanta members, $40 for nonmembers. www.treesatlanta.org, 404-522-4097.