The Arboretum Called Bard


When was the last time you visited a garden measuring 930 acres? When was the last time you were enveloped by hundreds of varieties of flowers, bushes, grasses and other flora? It was, of course, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Bard’s extraordinary arboretum was off-limits. The good news is we can now return, and meander through the campus to see what gifts nature provides.

Every day about 2,000 students stroll across campus, on their way to and from classes, sport 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.

Bard Campus Trees
Employees at Bard

Unique Environment

The 347 LLI members, both new and returning, can now bathe themselves in the same environment as their younger counterparts. Perhaps they appreciate this unique environment in a slightly different way 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 each day nature challenges a team of Bard employees who shape nature’s work into the wonderland around them.

Amy Parella '99

Every morning at 6 a.m., an energetic, creative, knowledgeable, horticulturist named Amy Parrella, 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.

Amy Parrella
Giving Guidance

Job Description

Parrella, who began working in her mom’s vegetable and flower gardens at an early age, is a professional gardener, having worked in environments like the prestigious Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and Delaware Center for Horticulture, where she honed her skills educating others.

Her job description would probably take a few written pages to accurately define but, at the core, consists of designing and maintaining the campus’ flowers, plants, bushes, trees, and grasses. She must prioritize not only what needs to be done on a regular, timely, basis, but also how to quickly respond to immediate challenges caused by the forces of Mother Nature, like a felled tree, water pouring off its designed drainage path, or a group of flowers dying from disease or insects. And, perhaps most difficult, to envision how to design and plan for the future.

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.”

Starting Plants
Woody plants

Constant Juggling

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

Some think of an arboretum as 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.

Beautiful campus

Many Questions

Each 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.”

The coming semester will be a combination of Zoom, on-campus, and hybrid classes. LLI members must carry proof of vaccination, but the only restriction on enjoying the 930 acres is what we see, feel, and smell.