Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fleeting Beauty, Enduring Value: The Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden

Tues., May 19, 7-9 pm
Ann Arbor District Library main branch
343 South Fifth Avenue
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104

A presentation by Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum Curator Dr. David C. Michener

Ann Arbor's favorite garden will soon be in bloom! Come and find out how we're enriching this historic collection and adding long-desired specimens, including Chinese and Japanese tree peonies. At tonight’s presentation Matthaei-Nichols Curator Dr. David C. Michener will offer a best-guess of when the peonies will burst into bloom and which plants may bloom for the first time this year. Get a behind-the-scenes view of changes and enhancements to this national treasure as we prepare for the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden’s centennial in 2022. Bring your questions, too, for the after-session discussion.

Share your peony garden stories and photos! Submit your stories and photos online at the Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden website. Or bring a few to tonight's presentation for possible future inclusion on our website about public enjoyment of Ann Arbor's favorite garden.

A view of the peony garden from nearby Laurel Ridge
Photo credits: Michele Yanga
Discussion Location: The Ann Arbor District Library's Multi-Purpose Room at the downtown site. A listing for the program can be found on the Ann Arbor District Library's website: aadl.org.

Presented by the Ann Arbor District Library and

1800 N. Dixboro Rd. (Matthaei)
1610 Washington Hts. (Arb)


Monday, May 11, 2015

Bonsai Expert Visits Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Bonsai artist David DeGroot reshapes not just some of the plants themselves in the Matthaei-Nichols collection, but how we look at them

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum recently invited bonsai expert David DeGroot to conduct a multi-day session of bonsai care, pruning, and instruction. DeGroot retired in 2014 after 25 years as curator of the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Federal Way, Washington, where he tended a collection of more than 120 trees. David is author of Basic Bonsai Design (Basic Books) and the forthcoming Principals of Bonsai Design. Today he travels extensively, lecturing and giving bonsai workshops for gardens and other organizations with bonsai collections.

A Larix laricina (American larch) undergoing
a transformation by David DeGroot
We hired DeGroot as a consultant to guide us, over the course of several years, in the care and styling of our bonsai. DeGroot's long experience in the art of bonsai will “bump us up to the next level,” says Carmen Leskoviansky, Matthaei-Nichols collections and natural areas specialist. “We have good trees, she adds, "but we wanted a professional eye to critique our work and give advice on where to go and how to maintain some of the trees that have really reached a peak in their design where we’re uncertain how to move forward. David will provide us with the expertise and encouragement to make some big changes that will result in lovely, artful bonsai.”  

For three days in late April 2015 DeGroot—along with members of the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society and local bonsai artist and teacher Jack Wikle—circled around, discussed, pruned, and examined many of the trees in the Matthaei-Nichols collection.

David DeGroot in the Bonsai & Penjing
Garden at Matthaei
For this bonsai greenhorn observing the action from the sidelines, the progress and results were surprising, even unsettling. At certain points the floor was littered with branches as DeGroot applied his technique. “Less is more,” DeGroot said of a yew tree that he and Jack Wikle were working on. Before DeGroot began work on the yew it was about two and half feet tall and a bit shaggy, with a bare trunk that recalled a well-aged tree. “But we’re keeping the bones of the tree,” DeGroot comments as he continues his work. When asked the question, how do we know when the tree is ready to display, DeGroot observes, half seriously, “When it looks nice!” DeGroot went on to say that for this yew he was setting some basic structure, and the refinements would come later.

David DeGroot uses a blow torch to help shape branches

This particular yew has deadwood (shari) and a hole in the trunk. The hole was purposely created some years ago. Bonsai is art, and all art is subject to the whims of fashion. Today such trunk holes are out of style. To freshen the design while respecting the tree and its basic form DeGroot pulled some of the branches down with wires, creating a new front viewing point for the tree. He also tilted the tree a bit forward.

Moving over to a Japanese beech DeGroot worked with Wikle to recreate the look of the tree as it would be in its natural setting. “A large part of our discussion concerns the crown of the tree,” DeGroot observes. “Many trees have a characteristic juvenile leader so the tree puts its energy into the trunk’s apical terminal. At some point a trigger happens where branches will bolt and the tree starts taking on a rounder appearance. So for this beech, the low branches are emerging as they should be, including the crown, which needs to be rounded and not pointy.”
Jack Wikle (L) and Cyril Grum work on a
Japanese yew.

In one way the art of bonsai is about recreating the forms of nature in miniature. When looking at a bonsai tree the casual observer may not appreciate the many hours and in some cases decades of careful management required to imitate what nature seems to do so casually. DeGroot compares the training and care of a bonsai to an athlete in training. “We’re taking the tree to its limits but at the same time giving it the best possible care. Just as many athletes push themselves to new limits to achieve amazing goals we’re pushing this beech, stressing it, to give it the incentive to create more growth.”

A Japanese yew undergoing something
of a radical transformation under the
expert wyw of DeGroot. DeGroot
obscures the hole in the tree trunk
(called "shari" and now out of fashion)
by pulling other branches down over it.
Eventually the braches will grow, covering
the shari. Note the multiple branches littering
the floor.

 In time DeGroot’s artistry will take shape as the bonsai he worked on evolve. “It was fun and refreshing to have someone so bold and enthusiastic help us make some real art pieces,” Leskoviansky says.  “I'm excited to see what the future holds for our collection!”

Friday, May 8, 2015

Kids Write about Nature for Kids

With the help of University of Michigan School of Education grad student Molly Garrett, third-graders in Ann Arbor’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School create compelling copy and brochures depicting the biomes of the world

Creating clear, concise, and interesting signage and brochures for a botanical garden, museum, or zoo can be a challenge. Interpretation needs to address multiple audiences and different ages while conveying information in a lively format that’s educational and yet uncomplicated.

The current exhibit at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is a trove of brochures created by Amy Warner's third grade class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Ann Arbor. Amy's graduate student intern, Molly Garrett, devised this informational writing unit with the intent to provide students with an authentic purpose for writing.

The project assignment was to research the earth’s terrestrial biomes and to create informational text to educate others about biomes. Students researched the arctic, tundra, grasslands, tropical rainforests, desserts, the temperate deciduous forest, and the temperate coniferous forest (taiga). The purpose of the assignment was to create materials for Matthaei Botanical Gardens younger visitors.

Some examples of brochures created by the King Elementary third-graders.

The third graders immersed themselves in the writing project for six weeks. The class decided to use informational brochures as their medium for educating the garden's young visitors.

In the project's initial stages, students researched their chosen terrestrial biome using books and online sources, and explored the genre of informational text in brochures. Through this exploration they discovered the features of brochures, such as a cover page, subtitles, use of images, and a bibliography. Students used index cards to organize their research into the following categories: climate, location, plants, animals, and other facts. This process supported the transfer of their research into the writing process. Students followed the traditional writing process of planning, drafting, revising, and editing their work. They used computers to publish their brochures, which is the work exhibited at Matthaei today.

The third-grade writers produced impressive results about the Earth's biomes and are very proud of their finished work. Please join us at Matthaei for a look at the students’ efforts.

Exhibit runs through May 17 at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48105. The Gardens is open daily 10 am-4:30 pm. Admission is free, with a small hourly parking charge.