Try to imagine your garden measuring 930 acres. Try to imagine it containing hundreds of varieties of flowers, bushes, grasses, and other flora. Try to imagine how much work it takes to design, manage, nurture, and maintain it for people to enjoy. You don’t have to imagine it. It’s right here. It’s called the Bard Campus.
Every day about 2,000 students stroll across campus, on their way to and from classes, sports games, and events. Sometimes their eyes are fixed on the path beneath their feet, but often those same eyes wander, gazing at the mesmerizing visual composition of nature around them. At that point, many take a deep breath and find themselves in a deep, almost meditative, state.
Every Friday, for seven weeks, about 250 LLI members find themselves in the same environment as their younger counterparts. Perhaps they appreciate this unique environment slightly differently because of a lifelong learning of gardens, and the effect they have on the mind and soul. But they surely are thankful for the time, investment, creativity, and work it takes to make the Bard campus a giant arboretum.
This didn’t happen overnight, or from the efforts of a weekend gardener. It happened because nature challenges, each and every day, a team of Bard employees who shape nature’s work into the wonderland around them.
Amy Parrella '99
Every morning at 6 a.m., an energetic, creative, knowledgeable, horticulturist named Amy Parrella (Bard ’99), joins a team of colleagues (five full time and two part time employees, plus a dozen or so students) to discuss what needs to be done to ensure this landscape and arboretum called Bard College stays on track. Or, at the risk of puns, to flourish and grow.
Parrella, who began at an early age working in her mom’s vegetable and flower gardens, is a 42-year-old professional gardener, having worked in environments like the prestigious Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and Delaware Center for Horticulture, where she honed her educational skills teaching others.
Keeping it Natural and Beautiful
“One example of problems to be solved quickly,” she said, “was an intersection where high grasses made it difficult for drivers to see oncoming cars. The solution was simple, but needed immediate attention. We replaced the high grass plants with shorter ones.”
When asked about priorities, Parrella immediately answered, “Keeping the landscape natural. Keeping it beautiful, with the resources we have. And managing all the historic landscapes we enjoy, like Montgomery Place. Also, we tend to forget, the entire Bard campus is a historic landscape. And as such we are celebrating, and interpreting, all of them.”
Providing plants and flowers to LLI events, social gatherings, and meetings is also a task Amy and her team welcome and accomplish with satisfaction and pride.
It’s not easy. They constantly juggle the rural, natural landscape work with maintaining urban environments, roads, parking lots, and building environs. The Bard campus requires jack-of-all-trades workers, who every day tackle weeding, measuring pH levels of soil, spraying, tree work, using a Geographical Information System (mapping certain areas with satellites you can pinpoint), and managing interns who input plant data records, and a myriad of other tasks.
Collection of Woody Plants
The definition of Arboretum is actually nothing more than a collection of “woody plants.” But Parrella adds, “Bard’s Landscape and Arboretum includes perennials, vines, bulbs, shrubs and trees. I looked at what collections Bard already had and have tried to organize and enhance them over time.”
Montgomery Place, for example, is where the team’s creativity and work will be aimed and executed in the next few years with a scientific approach, especially since she’s starting with more of a blank slate.
Each and every day Parrella is inundated with emails, about every subject imaginable, from crises to suggestions, from simple tasks to those requiring long-range planning, to the faculty requesting her to share knowledge with students. Those students, of course, include grateful LLI members.
When asked why a young person should enter the field of horticulture, she says, “It makes the earth a better place, and for people who inhabit the earth. When people ask, I say I want to put all my resources into where I live, even before [laughs] clothes and food. It seems to make everyone else enjoy their surroundings. That has to be a good thing.”