When member and self-proclaimed “tree geek” John Lyons moved to Boston 40 years ago, he already knew about the Arnold Arboretum due to its reputation and his lifelong passion for plants. Though he’d loved herbaceous plants since he was a child, the Arboretum opened his eyes to the wonder and diversity of woody plants. Rigorous documentation of the extensive collection—like the tree labels and hang tags that identify some 16,000 accessioned plants across the landscape—set the Arboretum apart from other parks, and made it feel like an educational wonderland to him. “Reading those shiny little tags” hanging from Arboretum plants taught John the scientific names and provenance of dozens of plants he has encountered over the years on his walks.

Arboretum member John Lyons
Arnold Arboretum member John Lyons.

As a resident of Jamaica Plain, it’s quite easy for him to pop over for a stroll these days. He was not always just a stone’s throw away. When he lived in Boston’s South End, he would commute to visit via the MBTA Orange Line, a trip he made regularly to attend lectures, take classes, and meander the trails—welcome escapes from the bustle of downtown Boston. Now he visits more frequently to observe the changing seasons and compare the quality and quantity of blooms from year to year on plants he admires most.

While the Arboretum and its programs are free to all, John knows these world-class resources come at a cost to the institution. “When I first started visiting in my twenties,” he notes, “I didn’t think I had the capacity to give back, even at the entry-level membership. But even then, I knew I would contribute to the Arboretum as soon as I could.” Today, John and his husband, John Griffin, are loyal members of the Sargent-Olmsted Society and take part in as many exclusive membership events and benefits as they can, from tours of the Weld Hill Research Building and its laboratories to annual Arbor Day seedling giveaways each spring. Available to members at the Arbor Day level and above, the 2024 Arbor Day Seedling is the ‘Arnold Promise’ witch-hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’), a hybrid of the Chinese and Japanese witch-hazels introduced by the Arnold Arboretum. Both John and his husband are eager and reliable participants in the seedling pickup every year.

Beyond supporting the Arboretum through membership, John Lyons has also served our community as a docent for the past five years. He relishes sharing his knowledge of the Arboretum and its trees with visitors and promotes the value of membership to all who find joy and meaning in the landscape. He is proud to give back to a place that he feels has given him so much over the years. “The Arboretum is my happy place,” John says, and he feels passionate about helping it thrive so other budding “tree geeks” and nature lovers of all ages can enjoy this urban oasis for centuries to come.