Recently the Arnold Arboretum hosted fifteen youths and two program leaders from the Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s Green Team Summer Program. Operated by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy with support from Boston’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, the program employs Boston resident teens (ages 15-18) who work 25 hours per week for six weeks involving park maintenance, nature connection, environmental education, and skills development.
Students participated in two days of learning opportunities that were varied yet representative of the scope of work at the Arboretum that is on-going and necessary to its care and maintenance. Through demonstrations and tutorials, hands-on work, and physical labor, the teens were introduced to many different aspects of the horticulture industry. One youth commented, “It’s important for us to have connections with nature, and this helps me to follow that path in the future.”
During a tour of the Curation Department Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections, talked about what it means to select, organize, and care for living plants and maintain herbarium specimens, while Curatorial Assistant Kathryn Richardson described how researchers use the collections for their investigations. Manager of Plant Records Kyle Port worked with small groups to measure the DBH (diameter at breast height) of various trees on the slope behind the Hunnewell Building.
At the Dana Greenhouses, Tiffany Enzenbacher, Manager of Plant Production, discussed various aspects of pest control. Students learned about aphids and how to recognize sings of infestation, then helped Greenhouse staff Chris Copeland and Lee Toomey release adult ladybugs on plants in the shade house and nursery. Plant propagator Sean Halloran demonstrated how to take softwood cuttings and prepare them for propagation using root hormone and cutting media—an activity each teen had the opportunity to practice, contributing their cuttings to those in the cutting propagation house. For some, this hands-on experience was their favorite part of the two-day program.
Arborists Bob Ervin, AJ Tataronis, and Ben Kirby demonstrated the equipment they use to climb trees and explained some of the physics involved in tree climbing and load lifting, as well as the importance of understanding wood density. Several students put on harnesses to attempt a short climb, while others used pulleys to experiment with moving heavy objects from the treetops.
Turning their attention to parts of the plant beneath the soil, the teens worked with Horticulturists Greg LaPlume and Wes Kalloch to explore root systems. Staff demonstrated how to use an air spade to safely and carefully excavate soil from around sensitive plant roots—volunteers had the chance to try it themselves. The students gained an appreciation of observing parts of the plant beneath the soil to fully understand the tree above.
Finally, the teens worked with Horticulturist Scott Phillips and seasonal employees Ari Jahn and Isaac Wright on a native plant restoration project in the Beech Collection. They learned about the value of native plants and were taught the appropriate ways to prepare and install plugs of perennials. Putting their knowledge to work, they planted over 800 plugs of Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass), Aquilegia candensis (wild columbine), and Symphyotrichum cordifolium (heart-leaved aster). These native plants add species diversity to the landscape, enhancing its value to pollinators.
Cooperative learning programs like this help to fulfill a key component of the Arboretum’s mission to educate a wide range of audiences about plants and the environment. The success of this particular program is largely thanks to the efforts of Rachel Brinkman, Assistant Manager of Horticulture, and Brendan Keegan, Arboretum Gardener II, to develop and organize experiences both meaningful and memorable. As one participant commented, “This was rewarding because I can come back and see the work I did. The trees will still be here.”