R. Wayne Mezitt is a third-generation nurseryman, Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist, and Owner of Weston Nurseries, Inc.
Wayne served as president of Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA), New England Nursery Association (NENA), and American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) which is based in Washington, DC.
Wayne is the horticultural consultant for GrowingWisdom.com with Dave Epstein.
Several weeks ago I learned that the United States National Arboretum in Washington DC will be de-accessioning some of their plant collections starting later this year. “De-accession” means that these collections will no longer be available to the public and many plants within the collections will be destroyed. Included in this de-accession plan are the National Boxwood Collection and its associated Perennial Collections, along with the extensive Glenn Dale Hillside of the Azalea Collections. This will be a huge loss for the plant world, and for all the people who have travelled to and enjoyed these gardens.
Arboreta and other public botanic gardens are true treasures for those of us who enjoy experiencing the beauty and value of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and other plants in a comfortable setting. Few private gardens can offer the range of horticulture they make available, often in association with other garden treasures (sculpture, architecture, art, etc.). Many of these public gardens get early access to newer plant cultivars, and most still retain some of the now-forgotten, but worthy older plants that may have disappeared from commerce. For nurserymen like me, these public gardens are vital resources that help our business better serve our customers.
Botanic gardens are committed to maintaining accurate records of their plants and plant collections. For ease of identification by the visitor, most plants are correctly identified or labeled. Many offer guide maps and interpretive exhibits. Professional staff enhances educational value with design and composition that effectively utilize the growth characteristics and seasonal appeal of the plants which comprise the displays. Many botanic gardens conduct educational sessions or participate in research on specific plant groups or horticultural functions that benefit the public.
In this region (eastern Massachusetts) some of the best of these gardens include Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, and the Wellesley College Botanic Garden. The Boston Public Garden was actually the first botanic garden to be established in the US. And while technically not a botanic garden, the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, America’s first garden cemetery, offers some of the most spectacular examples of mature trees and shrubs to be seen anywhere. We are most fortunate to have these gardens and others, as well as the support for their continuation.
Over the years our nursery has contributed to the plantings at the U.S. National Arboretum by donating a significant number of azaleas and rhododendrons that we’ve developed and introduced. While those plants we’ve donated are probably not at risk during the current cutbacks, we are apprehensive about the long term outlook for these plants, along with many others. Clearly the problem facing the National Arboretum is financial – they have lost vital funding from a private donor which supported several staff positions. In order to maintain the high quality expected by the public for the gardens overall, management believes the best solution is to eliminate these collections.
Losing these collections at the U.S. National Arboretum is categorically a loss for all Americans. The boxwood collection is among the most complete in the USA. The azalea collection has long been considered a Washington landmark -- it was the magic of the spring azalea displays that first prompted the Arboretum to open its doors to the public in 1954, and this garden is now one of the Arboretum’s most popular.
I continue to be grateful that our local public gardens seem to be weathering similar financial challenges. If you are interested in learning more about the issues at the National Arboretum, please visit http://www.savetheazaleas.org.
Good news! We’ve learned that the National Arboretum has now decided to reconsider its decision to de-accession their National Boxwood Collection and its associated Perennial Collections, along with the extensive Glenn Dale Hillside of the Azalea Collections. Click here for the announcement. We applaud the decision to suspend the removal of these valuable gardens and give our sincere thanks to those who provided feedback to help resolve this situation.