ACS 2013 National Meeting in Mt. Kisco, NY

By Chad Crowell

Over 195 members and guests gathered in Mt. Kisco, NY, for the ACS's annual National Meeting at the Holiday Inn August 8-11.

Mt. Kisco Holiday Inn entrance. They dressed for the occasion.
Mt. Kisco Holiday Inn entrance. They dressed for the occasion.

Thursday night's Keynote Speaker was Peter Del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, whose talk was titled Deeply Disturbed: Emergent Forests of the Future. Instead of thinking about how climate change and urbanization are affecting humans, Del Tredici challenged us to see how these man-made activities are affecting plant life and how they (and insects and mammals) are naturally responding to the circumstances.

His thesis didn't claim that there was a new culprit. As Pogo used to say, "We have met the enemy and his is us." (Does anybody actually remember who Pogo was?) However, his talk gave us an eye-opening view of how trees are responding to these evironmental shifts and what we and our heirs can likely expect in the forests of the future. Here are some snapshots from the event.

On Friday we visited the estate garden of Judy and Michael Steinhardt in Mt. Kisco whose 65 acre garden contains over 350 conifer cultivars but with sections separated for pasturage and heated barns for exotic wildlife — "we like to call them alternative livestock," said an employee about a small herd of albino wallabies nearby. Listed by as one of the top 20 Greatest Investors, Steihhardt closed his firm in 1995 to concentrate on philanthropy and his personal interest which includes conifers and Japanese maples (estimated at 450 cultivars, perhaps the largest collection in private hands.) Despite the rain and drizzle Steinhardt mingled with the ACS-ers and traded info about his favorite cultivars.

The next stop on the bus was Caramoor in Katonah, NY, an early 20th Century estate of the Walter Rosen family that has been converted into a regional center for music and arts with about 40 public concerts a year. Members explored the house which contained European art and furnishings from villas and palaces and explored the grounds which were landscaped in the Italian tradition with a pavillion, sunken garden, a medieval mount and a sense garden — a very early attempt to bring nature to the physically challenged.

Then it was off to Quaker Hill Native Plant Garden in Pawling, NY, an immense 1,500 acre private preserve of native plants built around the estate created by the late magazine publishing magnate, William Ziff. Started in the late 1980s, and only recently completed, the ACS was fortunate to be able get a special tour since less than ten a year are granted. We explored the area surrounding the Ziff family house which is 250 acres, formerly flat farm fields, but today totally transformed with immense rocky outcroppings, waterfalls, ponds, winding, boulder-strewn paths and mature 100-plus foot trees — all transported to the site. The arrangement of the plantings is designed to mimic the progression of flora native to the woodlands from Georgia all the way to northern New England, as if one is thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. The garden was originally designed to represent several of the main plant communities of the woodlands east of the Appalachians. With the exception of Pinus elliotti, P. palustris and P. serotina, which cannot tolerate the winter freezes of Quaker Hill, most of the conifers within the parameters of the garden's design are growing here. Some are over a hundred feet in height; approximately 500 of which still require cabling until their root systems are able to grab hold of the new terrain.

The next day we visited two more gardens, the first for our group was that of Michael and Beazie Larned in Stamford, CT.

Started over thirty years ago, but worked on in earnest only in the last 20 years when their two daughters got older, the landscaped area is less than three acres with another two left a natural green belt that surrounds the property on three sides. The terrain features exposed ledge in several areas that has been artfully integrated into the design scheme including a prominent granite knob ("Mole Mountain") in the middle which can navigated via pavers that take one to the summit where a secluded bench gives a panoramic view of the various plantings such as a Conifer Grove, Woodland Garden, Metaseqoia Grove, Mown Meadow, Juniper Slope and Butterfly/Bee Garden (Michael is a beekeeper in his spare time!) but all this is gracefully integrated into a welcoming space with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the abundance of views.

The other garden visit of the day was to the nearby Bartlett Arboretum, the former home and research facility of the F.A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company which is now operated by an independent non-profit organization under an agreement with the City of Stamford which owns the property. Dr. Bartlett, a well known dendrologist, purchased the property in 1913 as his residence and company headquarters; it grew to 60 acres before passing into the hands of the city.

Nancy Vermeulen and Garry Gee volunteered to identify questionable conifers in the Bartlett collection. (Is Gary wearing a skeptical look or is it just the lens flare in this photo?)
Nancy Vermeulen and Garry Gee volunteered to identify questionable conifers in the Bartlett collection. (Is Gary wearing a skeptical look or is it just the lens flare in this photo?)

After F.A. Bartlett's death in 1963 the Bartlett company transferred its research facilities to Charlotte, NC, but still retains a supportive role to the Arboretum. Two of Bartlett's scientists were present for the ACS tour and delivered lectures in the Visitors Center before and after lunch for our group.

Over the years Dr. Bartlett acquired many unusual (for the northeast) tree species for his research, which, after his death was continued by the University of Connecticut's Plant Science department up until 2001. Many of Bartlett's trees planted in the teens, 1920s and 1930s, survive today and are documented as being notable or state champions, a list of which can be found here. Docents accompanied groups of ACS members through the various gardens pointing out the giants. A Pinus koraiensis stunned everybody who saw it.

A catered lunch was served on the grounds and afterwards ACS President Larry Nau handed a $1,000 check to Bartlett Arboretum Board of Directors President Paul Travaglino in support of the 100 year-old institution's ongoing efforts to provide educational opportunities to the community.

The dwarf conifer collection is undergoing renovation and, during our visit, the Arboretum asked ACS members to help it identify cultivars whose tags got separated during construction. Clipboards were provided and many ACS-ers leapt at the chance to do some sleuthing.

That night the main event was the National Meeting where Larry Nau reported on the state of our union (his From the President's Desk report will appear here and in CQ in a few weeks) and set the stage for the annual awards. Lauren Axford of Glenmont, NY, a graduate student at Empire State Colllege (Saratoga Springs, NY), is the 2013 recipient of the $2,500 ACS Scholarship Award. The two Merit Awards went to Dennis Groh of Dearborn Heights, MI, the winner of the Marvin & Emelie Snyder Award for Dedicated Support of the American Conifer Society and to Kurt Wittbodt-Mueller of Verden, Germany, for the Justin C. “Chub” Harper Award for the Development in the Field of Conifers.

The much anticipated plant sale saw over 250 cultivars raffled or auctioned off to benefit the Society, a near record and a very good sign considering we're coming out of a recession. Some highlights below.

Onward to Atlanta in 2014