NH's largest arboretum opens at RiverWoods Exeter
By Rob Levey, Seacoast Online
EXETER — On Friday, May 12, RiverWoods residents, volunteer docents, staff and others held a celebration ceremony on the Exeter campus to formally open New Hampshire’s largest arboretum.
At the ceremony, a Kentucky Coffeetree was planted to commemorate the occasion.
Featuring more than 100 unique trees and woody shrubs, the arboretum is spread over 200 acres on the RiverWoods Exeter campus and is the result of a concerted effort by both residents and staff.
“It’s been the most rewarding work of my life,” said Dan Burbank, landscape manager at RiverWoods. “When the idea was brought up by the residents, we began the investigative process to see if it was feasible and then took it to the senior team. We realized this was a possibility.”
He said it was a possibility only because of the work that had been put into the selection of trees and woody shrubs on the property many years prior, which he said was spearheaded by several residents. Tom Adams, who has lived at RiverWoods for the past 12 years, was one of those residents.
“There were small trees planted here and there in the beginning — there was basically dirty here,” he said. “After a year when some of the plants started to die, we thought of some unusual plants that could replace them.”
Noting one resident offered up the additional notion to label the trees with both their common and botanical names, Adams said it was never their explicit intention to create an arboretum. Years later, though, resident Liz Bacon said she immediately recognized the potential of the RiverWoods property as an arboretum.
“I saw many of the trees and shrubs were labeled and I knew they were serious about the plants here,” she said. “I thought that this place needed to be recognized for its collection.
"In the months that followed, more labeling took place as well as some other work, which has now earned RiverWoods a Level One Arboretum Accreditation from ArbNet, a consortium of arboreta and tree-focused public gardens throughout the world. Among several standards for such accreditation, a Level One Arboretum is defined as possessing a minimum of 25 species of trees or woody plants that are documented and labels for taxonomical purposes.
Noting he believes they can eventually achieve Level Two Arboretum Accreditation, Burbank said the most gratifying aspect to the project is that it has been resident driven and not the result of “a fleeting thought.”
“That’s a key piece to the arboretum—it has been created by an enduring organization with a plan for it to be around for a long time,” he said. “One of our tasks now is to look for ways to improve the soil.”
Featuring trails on the property as well, RiverWoods will include some level of public access.
“We want the public to see what has been created here, the arboretum is really the entire property,” said Adams. “This whole place is the arboretum.”
The mission of the arboretum is “to create an environmentally diverse, sustainable landscape that fosters an appreciation for the natural world through education, inspiration and research.