1994, Annette Wickham, Study Tour, Arboreta, USA

A study trip to the United States of America

By Annette Wickham

In March, 1994, I applied to the Kew Guild for funding for a study trip to the United States of America. My application was successful and so my proposals were about to be a reality.

My reasons for applying were to look at propagation techniques, facilities and work practices and compare them to those used in the Temperate Nursery at Kew. I achieved this by securing placements for one week in each of the two arboreta recommended to me. being the Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia and the United States National Arboretum, Washington D.C. I also wanted to visit gardens for one third of my travel time.

The Morris Arboretum is part of the University of Pennsylvania and the official Arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The 175 acres offer a wide range of garden developments and design. The collection contains some of Philadelphia’s rarest and largest trees such as Circidiphyllum japonicum, Fagus engleriana, (collected by Wilson), Stewartia pseudocamellia, and Cedrela chinensis.

For one week I had the pleasure of working with Shelley Dillard, Propagator at the Morris Arboretum. Together we experimented using various methods and treatments to propagate Rhododendron bakeri, and Enkianthus perulatus.

After completing my study of the Morris Arboretum I still had four days left to visit gardens in the region. The intern students at the Morris had planned a trip to the Delaware Valley, a region famous for its gardens. That day I visited two very interesting gardens. The first was Mount Cuba, a unique garden of 230 acres privately owned by Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. Mount Cuba is a safe haven for Piedmont flora. The Piedmont is an expanse of land which extends a thousand miles from the Hudson River, south to central Alabama. It is bordered on the west by the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, and to the east by the fall line and coastal plain. Mount Cuba cultivates many of the 3,000 species, half of which are considered to be of ornamental value. It became a centre for Piedmont flora in 1983 and is a woodland garden with many wonderful specimens including the native American Liriodendron tulipifera providing shade for such plants as Aquelegia canadensis, Astilbe biternatum, Corydalis lutea and Trillium grandiflorum, to name but a few.

Another garden very close to Mount Cuba was the Frederick Stroll Garden. It was very different to anything I had seen before. I think the best way to describe it was, many gardens within a garden. What I really liked about the garden was the scale of planting and, for a change, clashing plant colour associations. Bold and daring. Frederick had a novel way of growing his Wisterias. Supports in the shape of a branching tree supported superb specimens which, I believe, are a spectacular sight in spring. Unfortunately, I was a few weeks too late.

Having spent nine very enjoyable days in Philadelphia, it was now time to make my way to Washington D.C. My remaining nine days were spent at the United States National Arboretum, working in close association with the Propagator of the Shrub Research Programme, Ruth Dix, and visiting other places of horticultural interest. The U.S. National has long been a leader in the development evaluation and distribution of new shrubs and trees for landscape use. My time was spent trying various methods of propagation of selected plants as a result of controlled pollination. We needed to see if selected plant forms such as Liriodendron tulipfera, Viburnum rhytidophyllum and Lagerstroemia fauriei could be propagated asexually with a high percentage of rooting. Commercial growers are not interested in new introductions unless rootability is high.

In between my work at the U.S. National Arboretum, I took In some more gardens such as Mount Vernon, home of the late George Washington. Washington was a keen gardener and even had his own botanic garden at Mount Vernon, which he tended to himself. My favourite feature there was a lovely red-brick Orangery, built to house exotic fruits, trees and plants. Other gardens visited were the William Paca garden in Annapolis. A recently developed two-acre garden with a very attractive Pavilion. Last but certainly not least was Dumbarton Oaks. Gardens designed by Beatrix Ferrand. It incorporates elements of the traditional French, English and Italian gardens which the owner, Midrid Bliss, admired. I was impressed by the formal features, especially the Pebble Garden. My three weeks were up and it was now time to return to Kew. I was very happy in the knowledge that I had achieved most of my aims and objectives, except for one very important objective. A proposed reciprocal visit to the Arboretum Nursery, Kew, by the Propagator of the Morris Arboretum, Shelley Dillard. One week after my return Shelley arrived and spent a week at Kew studying our methods and facilities, and some time learning about ferns in preparation for the newly built Victorian Fernery at the Morris. Shelley’s visit was a great success and it gave me the opportunity to return some of the hospitality afforded tome during my trip.

My study trip to the United States has been a highly enjoyable and satisfying time. I am very grateful to Barbara Allen, Shelley Dillard, Ruth Dix and Sylvester March and all the other contacts and friends I have made, for their generosity and kindness. I strongly recommend travel, wherever, whatever.


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