Minutes after receiving a text that she’d arrived, I approach the bench that Sarah Freeman is sitting on, confused that she’s enrapt in conversation with two women. It turns out that in the two minutes between her text message and my arrival, she had seen one friend approaching from the left and another friend approaching from the right and had taken the opportunity to introduce them to each other. A long-time Arboretum member and a regular attendee of our plethora of programs, this is what Sarah is famous for—being an active part of the community and passionate promoter of our mission.

Sarah Freeman at the Arnold Arboretum
Sarah Freeman pauses by a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) on Bridle Path at the Arnold Arboretum.

Sure enough, even after her friends depart, Sarah continues to be recognized by passersby and I begin to feel I’m interviewing a celebrity. A woman riding by on her bike waved and shouted, “Hello Sarah!”, and then Michael Dosmann, Keeper of the Living Collections, lit up as he walked by when Sarah confirmed that his Tree Mob™ in the viburnums was her next stop. Her connectedness to both plants and people seems to reach farther than the twisting branches of the cork trees growing nearby, and also led her to the landscape in the first place.

Sarah first visited the Arboretum in the 1980s when she was working in public health in the Longwood Medical area. She’d gotten in the habit of enjoying lunchtime runs around Jamaica Pond with her coworkers when a visiting professor and exercise partner proposed an alternate jogging route through the Arnold Arboretum. “It’s so close to Jamaica Pond but I hadn’t been until an out-of-towner from Ohio suggested it!” Sarah admits. “Sometimes you fall into a routine, and you need an outside force to discover a new treasure.”

Out of admiration and appreciation of the Arboretum, Sarah became an entry-level member in the 1990s, but remembers exactly when and why she increased her giving a few years later. Former Arboretum Director Bob Cook was fundraising for the creation of the Weld Hill Research Building, which opened in 2011, and explained that the Arboretum was entirely funded by past and present members and donors. As someone who visited frequently and believed deeply in the value of the Arboretum as a community asset, she felt a duty to help as much as she could.

For 30 years and counting, membership has been an important component of Sarah’s relationship with our landscape. Every April, Sarah picks up her Arbor Day seedling, and manages to find room in her yard for it and the other plants she receives at events as a member of the Sargent-Olmsted Society. Her favorite Arboretum plant acquisition is also one of her most recent—a dove tree (Davidia involucrata) she received in spring 2023. While it has yet to bloom, she can’t wait for the day it does. Reflecting upon the divisiveness and conflict prevalent in the world today, she is eager for the fluttering, dove-like bracts to grace her tree, and hopes for the return of peace that they symbolize.

I walk with Sarah to the site of the Tree Mob™, where once again she is recognized and greeted by many of the attendees. As we admire the beauty of the landscape on a clear day, Sarah shares one more story with me. Her history with trees began before she was even born, when her parents had to hide in the forests of Poland during World War II. When her family later moved to the United States, it was no accident that they carefully selected a home in rural, wooded Ohio. “Because of their experiences, they felt safer around trees,” Sarah explains.

Reflecting on this part of her family history as an adult, Sarah has concluded that her lifelong love for greenspaces, and particularly the trees at the Arboretum, isn’t random—it’s in her blood. “I’m alive today because of trees,” she says. Amidst the cheerful symphony of chirping orioles and chattering visitors, the lush flora and winding wooded paths, it’s easy to understand how the Arboretum is a home away from home to Sarah and countless others seeking the solace of nature in the city.

The Arboretum community is as vibrant and diverse as the 16,000+ trees, shrubs, and vines that grow in our landscape. Just as each plant has a story, so does each of our members—what draws them to plants, why they care about the Arboretum, and what inspires them to support a place that can be enjoyed by all for free. Sarah hopes you will consider joining her by becoming a member today. By being a member, you will enhance your relationship with this landscape, its plants, and the people like you who learn and discover with us, in-person and online.