top of page

The Wadsworth/Kerste deBoer Arboretum

In September 2005, as part of its Nonaginta anniversary celebration, the Middletown Garden Club, under the guidance of members Marcia Kalayjian and Katchen Coley, raised $11,590 toward the goal of rehabilitating the Wadsworth/Kerste deBoer Arboretum.

The Arboretum, located on Long Lane in Middletown, CT, was originally conceived and planted in 1909 by Colonel Clarence S. Wadsworth with design assistance from the firm of Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects. (Job # 3359 in the Olmsted Archives.) Originally, the trees created a grand double alleè along the route to Colonel Wadsworths Mansion.

While much has changed over the years in the neighborhood, (including the number and location of the roads lanes), the Arboretum remains an astounding collection of mostly native, mostly deciduous large trees. Over one hundred seventy trees are in the collection, with more than 70 species represented. Many of the trees appear to be the originals that the Colonel planted, although this cannot be verified without damaging the trees. Many others have died, some in the hurricane of 1938, many others from old age or neglect.

While the City of Middletowns Urban Forestry Commission had an active replanting program at the Arboretum in the late 1980s in collaboration with the Board of Education, little had been done in about 15 years, with the exception of the occasional memorial tree planting. Four new trees were added through the Urban Forestry Commissions efforts in 2005. The Rockfall Foundation provided funds for labeling 54 trees with botanical and common names in 2006. This was done with major assistance from Ed Richardson and John LeShane.

Many empty places cried out to be filled with suitable trees. A small committee, consisting of Juana-Maria Flagg, Jane Harris, Ona McLaughlin and Barbara MacEachern, met with a local tree expert, Edward Richardson, of Glastonbury. With his enthusiastic support, a list of desirable and available trees was drawn up.

The plan consisted of ordering and planting 10 trees in 2006, to see how the new young trees would survive in an area to which no running water was available. Because Ed was particularly interested in bolstering an already outstanding collection of oaks, the first planting included

2 Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa)

2 English oaks (Quercus robur)

2 Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus Franz Fontaine)

2 Princeton elms (Ulmus Americana Princeton)

2 Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

All of these trees were species not previously represented in the current collection. All but the oaks listed above were planted in time for Arbor Day, 2006. Juanie Flagg observed that a yellowwood had been planted too close to a rapidly growing beech, so the garden club, with the Urban Forestry Commissions permission, had that tree relocated a few spaces south of where it had been. A little over $3000 was spent for that phase of the planting.

The planting was done by Kenneth Jay, a local landscaper, in locations selected by the Arboretum Committee. The Middletown Urban Forestry Commission, chaired by former Mayor Anthony S. Marino, thanked the garden club for their donation.

The following year, more oaks were ordered and this time the planting list included:

1 Willow oak (Quercus phellos)

1 Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

1 Turkey oak (Quercus cerris)

1 Sourwood (Nyssa sylvatica)

1 Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

2 Japanese tree lilacs (Syringa reticulata Ivory Silk)

2 Camperdown elms (Ulmus glabra Camperdownii)

Again, the trees were planted in time for Arbor Day, and were duly celebrated, along with the dedication of one of the prior years Princeton elms in honor of Ed Richardson. The garden club installed a plaque, describing Eds amazing contribution to urban forestry. The Rockfall Foundation and the City also installed plaques at trees planted earlier for Virginia Rollefson (a Swamp white oak) and for the late Stan Watson (a London planetree.) Including the cost of the plaque for Ed Richardson, approximately $3100 was expended.

In the fall of 2008, the committee selected and planted two Cornelian cherry trees (Cornus mas), one on each side of the handsome brownstone gateposts to the old Long Lane campus. Additional trees planted were a grouping of three Star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) at the south end of the Arboretum. At Arbor Day 2009, those trees were recognized as part of the 100th anniversary of the Wadsworth/Kerste deBoer Arboretum, and the Middletown Garden Club was saluted by the Middletown Urban Forestry Commission for its dedication to the replanting the Arboretum. With guidance from Jane Harris and City Forester Dana Whitney, the City of Middletown planted approximately 20 more trees between 2007 and 2009. An updated inventory of the Arboretum is in process, also under the guidance of the City Forester.

Submitted by Jane Harris

Chair, Arboretum Planting Committee

"If man is not to live by bread alone, what is better worth doing than the planting of trees? " Frederick Law Olmsted

bottom of page