A cardinal has been pecking at the windows of the new, but not yet open, Secrest Arboretum Welcome and Education Center.
“It wants to be the first one in,” Jason Veil, curator of the Wooster, Ohio, arboretum, says with a laugh.
With spring unfolding all around, Veil, his staff and arboretum volunteers are preparing for two big events on May 11.
There’s an open house slated at the welcome center, which is the public’s first chance to tour the $2 million facility. And there’s the annual Plant Discovery Day plant sale, which will also be held at the center.
The open house is a “chance for people to come in, check things out, ask questions and help us celebrate that the center is finally open,” Veil says.
The 100-plus-acre arboretum has “never had a brick-and-mortar identity before,” he adds.
Arboretum’s first visitor center
Created by refurbishing what had been the Research Operations Farm Shop at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the 10,000-square-foot welcome center has a large orientation space for visitors, an even larger multipurpose classroom, public restrooms, gallery space, and offices for Veil and his staff. The arboretum is part of OARDC.
Once fully operational, the welcome center “will have someone here to greet you, to answer your questions; and eventually, it will become much more than that,” Veil explains.
Down the road, pending additional funding, plans are being made for several interpretive exhibits: for children, for gardeners, on the science of plants, about jobs involving plants and about college majors.
“We want to spark that interest,” Veil says.
Center more welcoming to public
OARDC is part of the Wooster campus of Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which also includes CFAES’ two-year degree-granting unit, the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute. The college includes many plant-related sciences — from landscape horticulture to growing food crops to forestry and beyond — among its fields of research and majors for students.
Funding to create the welcome center came from OARDC and private donors, with the $2 million price tag covering nearly half the cost of constructing a new, stand-alone building instead, Veil says.
Planned and discussed for more than a dozen years, the welcome center is a further big step in the arboretum’s growth, he says.
“We’re a public garden,” Veil says. “We want to be even more useful, relevant and welcoming to the public.”
Plants feature local roots
The Plant Discovery Day plant sale — a popular spring event that, until this year, was held at OARDC’s Fisher Auditorium — will offer gardeners hundreds of types of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Many will be unusual kinds. All the proceeds will go toward improving the arboretum’s projects and programs.
Also at Plant Discovery Day will be a rare-plant silent auction; a bug zoo; a series of "Whiz Bang" science shows for kids by “Dr. Dave” Lohnes of Wooster; food trucks from Buehler's Fresh Foods and Flamingo Jack's, both based in Wooster; and sales by students and outside vendors of herbs, orchids, annuals, rare conifers, hanging baskets, vegetable starts, carnivorous plants and native wildflowers, among others.
Many of the plants in the main sale will have connections to the arboretum, Veil notes, having been propagated there. Some also have historical roots with the arboretum.
Take home a living fossil
The dawn redwood tree, for example, a “living fossil” once thought to be extinct, was brought to the arboretum and planted not long after its rediscovery in China in the 1940s. Today, it’s one of the arboretum’s icons. Specimens can be bought at the sale.
“We have a good selection of dawn redwoods this year,” Veil says. “We also have a [dawn redwood] variety called Gold Rush — or Ogon, which is its Japanese name — that’s similar to the typical green-leaf type, but it has blazing golden foliage through spring and summer. The more sun you give it, the brighter it is. You can see it from a half-mile away.”
Rare ‘witch’s brooms’
Auction standouts include Scots pine and Nordmann fir “witch’s brooms.” Both were discovered on trees in the arboretum.
Caused by a genetic mutation, witch’s brooms are slow-growing masses of shoots on a tree. They sprout from a single point on a branch, resemble a ball of twigs or the head of a broom — hence the name — and can be used to grow one-of-a-kind dwarf versions of the trees they came from.
The Nordmann fir witch’s broom probably won’t grow more than 3 feet tall over the next 20 years, Veil says.
“It’s a special plant for us,” he says. “You can take home a piece of Secrest with you.”
Hours for both the open house and Plant Discovery Day are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 11. Admission is free for both events. Further information, which will eventually include lists of the plants available, can be found at the event's webpage.
There’s also a Friends of Secrest Arboretum members-only presale from 3 to 4 p.m. May 10at the same location. The presale offers first choice of sale plants and a 10% discount. Details on joining the Friends of Secrest Arboretum, which is the arboretum’s volunteer group, are at the Friends of Secrest webpage.
OARDC and Secrest Arboretum are just south of downtown Wooster and U.S. 30, about an hour south of Cleveland.
The welcome center is on OARDC’s Williams Road, just east of Mill Road. Visitors can get there by taking Secrest Road and turning south onto Mill Road, or by using the OARDC main entrance at 1680 Madison Ave. and following signs to the arboretum.
Parking for the events will be in a free paved lot off Mill Road.