The Arnold Arboretum came into existence on March 29, 1872, and is marking 150 years of preserving biodiversity and connecting plants and people. As part of the anniversary celebrations, the Arnold Arboretum welcomes everyone to the first public-observance of its traditional Lilac Sunday event since 2019. In addition, Director William (Ned) Friedman announces a slate of both virtual and in-person talks on sesquicentennial themes entitled The Magic and Meaning of a Garden of Trees.

Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum
Lilac Sunday celebrations, viewed from the slope of Bussey Hill at the Arnold Arboretum. Jon Hetman

The spring season kicks off on May 1 with the reopening of the Arnold Arboretum Visitor Center in the Hunnewell Building, and accelerates with the approach of Lilac Sunday on May 8. A beloved tradition in Boston for well over a century, Lilac Sunday will return on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, after a two‐year pause during the pandemic. Once again, visitors will be welcomed into the Arnold’s lilac collection for guided tours, children’s activities, and picnicking on this special day only.

“The Arnold Arboretum’s lilac collection is one of the clearest examples of a space designed for pleasure and science,” says Michael Dosmann, the Arnold’s keeper of the living collections. “It was intentionally positioned on the slope of Bussey Hill, so that visitors could instantly appreciate the layered array of pink, white, and purple flowers in the spring. And its strength as a research and conservation collection has been confirmed by the Plant Collections Network, which accredited it as one of the most comprehensive and well‐maintained collections of lilacs in the nation.”

Over the course of four lectures and discussions, speakers in the 2022 Director’s Series will explore the values that motivated the founding of the Arnold Arboretum and that continue to inspire the institution today. The sessions are free and will be offered both in person and via livestream, beginning with a talk on April 11 at 7pm at the Weld Hill Research Building focused on the Arboretum’s founding events and historical figures. A panel of three speakers will talk with Friedman about how the Arnold’s landscape was designed to meet its scientific and civic objectives.

Panelists in the first talk include Lisa Pearson, Head of the Library and Archives at the Arboretum, who has written and presented extensively on the institution’s history and historical figures. Ethan Carr, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, recently coauthored a book on Fredrick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed the Arnold Arboretum. Panelist Rosetta Elkin is a landscape architect and the academic director of the Pratt Institute’s landscape architecture program, and has helped the Arboretum enact improvements to access and community engagement in the landscape.

“The Arnold Arboretum’s founders were adamant that the institution should serve people as well as plants,” Friedman says. “The landscape was imagined as a democratic space, accessible to all, and both Charles Sprague Sargent and Frederick Law Olmsted recognized that the plant collections and landscape needed to meet the dual needs of research and public well‐being. The centrality of these core ideals has never faded. In fact, our research and conversation missions have only become more pronounced in a time when global change threatens the planet with mass extinction, while the pandemic has truly driven home the importance of urban greenspaces to life in the city.”

Additional talks in the Director’s Series are scheduled for May 16, September 13, and October 25. Visit the Arnold Arboretum’s website for more information about sesquicentennial celebrations, Lilac Sunday, the Director’s Series, and other upcoming events. As always, the Arnold Arboretum landscape in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale is free and open for explorations daily from dawn to dusk.